Great whites “carefully” devour whale carcass in False Bay

Alison Kock and her shark research team have just finished a nine-day experiment in which 30 great whites were studied tearing apart a 36ft Brydes whale that had been towed away from the False Bay shoreline to protect bathers.

But ‘tearing up’ is perhaps not the right term.

Instead, the sharks used their razor-sharp teeth like cutlery to precisely cut out the ‘softer’ portions of the carcass, while virtually ignoring the hard carcass.

Plus, they did so while showing very little aggression to each other while enjoying their dinner. Great whites, it seems, are selective, calculating and very picky about the food they eat and the way they eat it!

The experiment dovetails with other points brought up on this website, particularly in the Introduction to the 1976 bite on Spence at Clifton, which covered the so-called “food shortage theory” in False Bay.

The article examined media reports that great whites were behaving aggressively in November 1976, possibly because seal carcasses were no longer being thrown back in the water for the first time in 10 years.

The media, quoting sources at the Department of Fisheries, suggested this was a reason for aggressive attacks on fishing and ski boats in False Bay.

However, Kock told Clifton Shark Files that the theories, like the current ones relating to shark cage diving, are flawed.

“Sharks evolved more than 400 million years ago, white sharks have existed in their current form for 20 million years and evolved to feed on various species of animals as mentioned previously.

“Whaling stations were renowned for attracting sharks, including white sharks, but these ended at various areas along the coast.”

According to Kock, great whites are opportunistic feeders and would have taken advantage of the disposed seal carcasses.

“A similar scenario exists with cage diving and fishing activities today. White sharks opportunistically get food from these activities.

“However, I still believe it’s highly unlikely they would ‘forget’ millions of years of evolution (predating on various other ocean animals) to depend getting food from activities like these.”
“It’s my opinion that they would supplement their diet with this given the opportunity, but not change their whole way of life.”

“We are recording anywhere between 3 – 10 successful attacks a day on seals at Seal Island, yet when we attempt to attract the sharks to the boat we are coming up empty handed.”

“Our conclusion was that we saw these results because the food presented to the sharks was not reliable, nor enough to cause white sharks to change their natural feeding habits, and stop predating on seals and other sharks and fish.”

The ‘whale experiment’ at False Bay also allowed Alison and her team to draw other conclusions.

“It provides evidence that when they bite into a surfboard, or kayak or person wearing a wetsuit they can immediately determine it’s not something they want to eat.”

“It’s very common in attacks on humans for white sharks to take a single bite and leave it at that,” Kock told the Daily Mail.

“Our study provides more evidence that they are simply tasting and looking for meat that is nutritious. It shows that they are not just swimming around mindlessly eating everything they come across, as they are sometimes portrayed.”

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