Are Great White Sharks Serial Killers? Shark Week 2017
This week on Animal Facts, we’re getting in on the Shark Week feeding frenzy. We’re hungry for some shark action. We’re watching and we know you are too. [Dun dun dun dun dun dun]
The Great White Shark, likely the most feared creature on the face of the Planet. He’s literally a cold-blooded killer. But is he just an opportunistic hungry fish, or is there a motive in his killing sprees? Does this most menacing predator of the sea have something in common with the most terrifying of human predators?
Weighing around 5,000 pounds and up to a reported 23 feet in length, but averaging more around the 15-foot mark, and possessing a mouth full of rows of sharp serrated teeth, there’s no wonder he’s the stuff of nightmares. Add the dramatizations of movies like the Jaws series, are we just making the serial killer connection in our collective consciousness?
Real Great White Sharks, unlike the glutton that starred in Jaws, are more than just the swimming set of teeth that dominates their popular image.
Let’s see how and what the Great White eats.
Young Great White sharks eat fish, rays, and other sharks. Adults eat larger prey, including sea lions and seals, small toothed whales (like belugas), otters, and sea turtles. They also eat carrion (dead animals that they have found floating in the water).
Oddly enough for a creature with 300 teeth, Great whites do not chew their food. Their teeth rip prey into mouth-sized pieces which are swallowed whole.
Humans are not on the menu and contrary to belief most Great White attacks on people are not fatal. Of 50 Great White attacks about 10 results in death. But, they do account for nearly half all shark attacks.
“This whole idea that they are a man-eater is very wrong,” says shark expert Peter Klimley of the University of California at Davis. “They spit out humans. Humans aren’t nutritious enough to be worth the effort.”
Sharks love fat. Fat produces twice the energy of muscle, so it’s the most efficient food for sharks.
Great whites prefer baby seals, which can have up to 50 percent fat content. They stalk seal colonies waiting for these fatty treats.
But, according to researchers, when a great white shark gets hungry, it doesn’t simply head for a crowd of seals and pick off the closest one. Instead, the great white lurks in its favorite hunting spot, waiting for a young and unwary seal to venture into the invisible danger zone. Then, it strikes silently from below.
They found that the older sharks, who were the most successful hunters, were attacking from clearly defined anchor points about 100 yards from areas where the seals congregate. At that vantage point they were far enough away to avoid scaring their prey, but close enough to spot a straggler breaking away from the group, and swimming alone into the killing zone.
“They both have the same objective, which is to find a target or prey or victim,” D. Kim Rossmo, a professor of criminal justice at Texas State University-San Marcos, said. “”They have to lurk. They want to be efficient in their search.”
The FBI states that most human serial killers have very defined geographic areas of operation. They conduct their killings within comfort zones that are often defined by an anchor point. Serial murderers will, at times, spiral their activities outside of their comfort zone, when their confidence has grown through experience or to avoid detection.
While the definition certainly does fit, sharks are not the only animals that have evolved to “stalk” their prey from an anchor point. Four out of 10 predator animal species prefer to stalk their prey as their means of hunting. it’s a common hunting mode for most solitary hunters.
And unlike their human predator counterpart, sharks eat when they are hungry and only kill to eat.
So are Great Whites serial killers? Or are they just a predatory animal that returns to a proven hunting ground and uses tactics that have evolved over millions of years to catch something to eat.