Do Sharks Have Predators?

Do Sharks Have Predators?

Sharks are infamous for being specialized ocean predators, but are they all that way? Or are some sharks gentle giants or timid little marine bunnies at the mercy of much more scary and dangerous animals?

If you’re wondering whether sharks have predators, the answer is yes! Many sharks are predated upon by a number of different marine animals, including other sharks! As it happens, even the most iconic shark, the great white, has predators.

So, what could be more dangerous than a great white? Here’s a clue: it’s a cross between a panda and a torpedo.

Before we give you the answer, let’s look at a few of the different types of sharks:

Shark Diversity

There are more than 500 species of sharks in the oceans.

Sharks populate every ocean on earth, in deep-sea crevasses and shallow water.

There are sharks in seas, rivers, and lakes. But don’t worry! There are only a handful of sharks that are potentially dangerous, and they are rarely anywhere near people.

Sharks have enormous diversity. There are sharks smaller than your phone and larger than your car.

Hunters, scavengers, and gentle ocean vacuum cleaners. Stripy sharks, spotty sharks, and sharks with hammers for heads. Sharks with rows of teeth and sharks with no teeth at all.

Sharks can be separated into 8 distinct orders:

Types of Sharks

  • Angel sharksYou might find these gentle, ray-like sharks 150m down on sandy sea beds. These are small sharks that feed on mollusks and crustaceans in the sand.
  • Bullhead SharksThese arecute little pig-snouted sharks, usually no more than 2-5ft long, feeding on crustaceans and mollusks like crabs and mussels. They often have spots and are found in shallow water.
  • Carpet sharksWho could be scared of a carpet? These sharks are often beautifully patterned, and the order includes the biggest fish on earth: the 46ft, gentle whale shark.
  • Cow sharksThese are some of the most primitive sharks left on earth. Most of these sharks have picked calm spots of semi-deep waters to live in, down to 4200ft. They eat small fish and eels.
  • DogfishPuppies of the ocean! Hardly scary unless you’re a clam. These little sharks inhabit almost every sea, and ocean species can be found in tropical, cold, shallow, and deep waters.
  • GroundsharksThese are some of the most diverse sharks. Hammerheads, tiger sharks, and snaggletooth sharks are all members of this order.
  • Mackerel sharksThis order comprises some of the most iconic species. The great white, mako, basking shark, and thresher are all members, meaning they contain the largest predatory sharks on earth.
  • Saw sharksWhen you only have a hammerhead, everything looks like a nail. That’s why the ocean is also home to the saw sharks. These crazy-looking fish have a long, serrated snout like a saw.

Are Sharks Apex Predators?

The small size of many sharks and the fact that they share their habitat with much larger predators means that most sharks are not apex predators.

In some populations, larger sharks are apex predators. This means they have no natural predators and sit comfortably at the top of the ‘food chain’, feeding on whatever they see fit and hunting with impunity.

However, the concept of the food chain in ecology is making way for a more accurate and descriptive system of feeding patterns in nature, known as the trophic (food) web.

This is because animals often have multiple predators and food sources that overlap with other members of their community.

Still, when an animal eats whatever it likes and doesn’t worry about being eaten, it could be considered an apex predator. 

Bull sharks, tiger sharks, and great whites are typically kings or queens of their domain and in most cases, would be considered apex predators.

But there is one creature that sends even these scary predators fleeing for their lives…

Do Sharks Have Enemies?

Sharks have a reputation for being the baddest fish in the ocean.

And that may be true, but there is another predator that has them fleeing their feeding grounds, sometimes not to return for a year at a time.

This animal is the orca or the killer whale.

Male Orcas are six-tonne murder machines, and they just love shark liver. They love it so much that they actively hunt large sharks like the bull shark, tiger shark, and great white.

And sharks are terrified of them! When the orcas are passing through, sharks will quickly find another place to be and may not come back for a year.

That’s how scary these beasts are. If you’re looking for a true apex predator, look no further. Nothing in the ocean comes close to predating upon a killer whale!

The Biggest Enemy of Sharks

Sadly, there is one other species that’s cause for concern for sharks. And these are ones the sharks never see coming.

At least one hundred million sharks are killed every year by humans. This is much faster than their populations can recover from, which means that if it isn’t stopped soon, there won’t be any sharks left.

Shark fin is a delicacy in some parts of the world, and it’s true that a significant proportion of sharks are killed for their fins, but what is often overlooked is the impact of overfishing as a whole.

Huge trawling nets gather up all kinds of ocean life indiscriminately in the pursuit of tuna or other common edible fish.

These nets catch and kill sharks along with everything else, and damaged nets are often thrown overboard, left to drift the ocean, killing for decades – possibly centuries – more.

In the last fifty years, shark populations have declined by 70%.

Much of this decline is driven by the global demand for fish, and fishing processes that are still legal.

If this demand doesn’t change, there’s a chance that we will soon be seeing the extinction of yet another ancient lineage.

Fortunately, shark conservation and management policies are being discussed globally, but without the support of the general public, they will necessarily fail.

The best thing you can do to avoid becoming a predator of sharks yourself is to spread the word, limit your fish consumption, and educate yourself on the individual’s impact on the marine environment.

Together, hopefully, we can help make sure that sharks last another 450 million years.

Final Thoughts

Sharks are high-level predators occupying every ocean, and almost every sea and estuary.

They come in all shapes and sizes, and they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years.

However, they do have natural predators. Or at least they have one – the powerful and charismatic orca.

In the ocean, like on the land, mammals occupy the apex predator spot. Unfortunately, some mammals are more damaging to animal populations than others; humans are on course to wiping them out entirely.

If you want help, join the conservation efforts whichever way you can. Sharks need us to act!