With an average length of 20 ft, the Great White Shark boasts of being the largest predatory fish in the world. It is also notorious for being the most aggressive fish in the world. Being the apex predator of the marine ecosystem, the Great White has a crucial role to play when it comes to marine biome food web. While most of us are familiar with general facts about this species - especially the ones that stress on its size and aggression, its diet is something that not many people are actually well-versed with. In fact, there exist several myths about the Great White Shark's dietary habits, and these are the myths that we intend to clear with this write-up on the same.
The Diet of a Great White Shark
Great White Sharks are opportunistic feeders with the adaptability to feed on a wide range of food sources in accordance to the availability of food resources. Even though this species is carnivorous in nature, it is known to demonstrate omnivorous behavior at times. The diet of this species often depends on its age and size, as its ability to take on larger preys tends to increase as it reaches adulthood. They always prefer to hunt one large prey over multiple small ones. Considering that hunting one large prey requires less energy as compared to hunting multiple small preys, the peculiar habit of choosing a larger prey helps the Great White conserve energy.
Coming back to the core issue - Great White Shark food, the species is known to feed on a wide variety of marine organisms, right from bony and cartilaginous fish to mammals and birds with whom it shares its natural habitat. It feeds on pelagic species (those occurring in open oceans) as well as benthic species (those living at the bottom of the ocean). The Great White's diet consists of other species of fish (such as tuna, dolphins, swordfish, stingrays, etc.) pinnipeds (such as the fur seals, sea lions, etc.), sea turtles and sea birds. It is also known to attack and feed on other species of sharks - including the Blue Shark and the Sandbar Shark species. Even though it spends a significant amount of time hunting for its prey, it also feeds on carrion when the same is readily available. In fact, feeding on carrion is beneficial for this species, as it saves them the efforts they would otherwise have to put in hunting. Surprisingly, the Great White Shark is also known to feed on items which they cannot digest.
Some Helpful Adaptations
There are certain adaptations which help the Great White Shark to feed on a wide range of marine species, carrion and objects which they are unable to digest. For instance, the large, sharp, triangular shaped teeth that they sport are specially adapted for sawing pieces of large marine animals that they hunt. Similarly, the mouth, pharynx i.e. the passage to the stomach and lungs, esophagus i.e. the passage between the pharynx and the stomach, and stomach are wide enough to swallow considerably large animal as a whole. The stomach of this species is divided into two parts - the cardiac stomach and the pyloric stomach, with the latter being the region wherein the undigested food is stored. The species doesn't just store inedible items in pyloric stomach, but also store their actual food here, and hence the evisceration of organ can tell us what the Great White Shark feeds on.
While many people believe that the Great Whites also feed on humans, the fact remains that humans do not feature anywhere in their diet. There have been numerous instances of this species attacking humans, but these attacks are more often out of curiosity, rather than for the purpose of feeding. Even though no accurate numbers are available, the Great White Shark has been declared vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and that's something to worry about considering that it has an important role to play in the marine ecosystem.