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What is a Shark Feeding Frenzy?

Updated on June 19, 2013

You may have heard of a shark feeding frenzy, and wonder what it is.

Feeding frenzies only occur in certain species of sharks, and is reminiscent of a riot in the local County jail with the inmates out-of-control and snapping and biting at everything that moves.

If you think being marooned at sea while sharks are circling round about you is bad, if a feeding frenzy is set off, things will rapidly become 100% worse for you.

Some types of sharks are excitable creatures, that while normally timid around humans, can turn into demons from Hell when in large numbers and food is present.

Just like a criminal gang egging each other on, when a feeding frenzy starts, each shark apparently loses control and bites at everything, even each other.

It gets even crazier when spinner sharks are involved, and they twist and turn and leap out of the water in their excitement, sending the water into a foamy maelstrom from which few creatures will emerge alive.

Shark Feeding Frenzy on Video

What sets off a feeding frenzy?

Usually there will be a large number of sharks present, and food, perhaps a shoal of fish or an injured mammal.

The sharks may circle the prey for a while, seemingly interested and watchful.

Suddenly, as if by an unbidden cue, they will suddenly speed up their movements and attack, biting and snapping their teeth while swimming in a circular fashion.

Wikipedia tells of a story where observers noticed a shark continuing to snap and bite despite the fact that it had already been disembowelled by the other sharks in the feeding frenzy.

This cringe-worthy incident simply shows the complete loss of control these sharks suffer when in a feeding frenzy, and hammers home the reason why you do not want to be in the water during this time.

school of sharks
school of sharks | Source

What Types of Sharks have a feeding frenzy habit?

The types of sharks known to indulge in feeding frenzies include:

  • spinner sharks
  • grey reef sharks
  • blacktip whalers(blacktip sharks)
  • bronze whalers (copper sharks)
  • oceanic whitetip sharks
  • Caribbean reef sharks

All predatory sharks can at some point or another become part of a feeding frenzy, though not all types will bite each other. Some are more controlled and aim only for the prey, and not each other, or anything and everything,

For that reason, I have chosen only to include the types of sharks that totally lose control during a feeding frenzy.

How do sharks detect food

Sharks are normally solitary hunters.

They detect prey through their unique senses.

Those include electroreception though an organ called the ampullae of Lorenzini, which are positioned around the shark's head, and are made up of electrically sensitive cells. These cells are connected to surface pores and allow sharks to detect the electric fields that are around all living creatures.

This means that there are no hiding places on the ocean floor or behind seaweed for potential prey to a hungry shark.

This in itself is a pretty impressive, but added to that, sharks also have what is called a lateral line.

This is a series of connected tubes that run down both flanks from the head to the tail of a shark. Each tubes contains tiny hair-like sensors that alert the shark to any presence near it.

Between their acute sense of smell, impeccable eyesight, their ability to detect prey by electroreception, and their lateral lines, it is not surprising sharks are such formidable hunters.

Sharks can sense injured fish in the water, and it is to those it will go to first.

Injured fish or other mammals cannot swim away and so sharks expend less energy catching them.

Injured humans are also easy prey for sharks, as has been shown in some of the many sea disasters of the last 200 years, but especially those that occurred during World War II.

lateral line of a shark
lateral line of a shark | Source

What causes a shark feeding frenzy

It is largely unknown what exactly causes a shark feeding frenzy.

The presence of food is the main factor, as is the presence of more than one shark.

The 695 sailors who became victims to feeding frenzies by oceanic whitetip sharks when the Cape San Juan was sunk in 1943 are testament to the damage inflicted.

All these injured men thrashing around in the water quickly brought the sharks, and when a feeding frenzy started, these men died quickly.

It was reported that rescuers had to fight the sharks off the survivors they pulled out of the water.

Shark feeding frenzies could be caused by one or all sharks trying to jealously guard what they consider to be their food.

When feeding frenzies occur in the presence of fish shoals, it is simply not known why sharks get themselves into such a state of high excitement that they resort to biting and snapping at everything that moves.

It has been said that sharks give off warning signals that a feeding frenzy is about to start.

They thrash around, with their snouts lifted high and their backs arched.

It is quite possible that frenzies occur due to a system overload in the shark's electoreception areas, due to a high level of distress signals being discharged by injured and frightened creatures in the sharks' vicinity.


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