Superpredators as scavengers?

A while ago I was privileged enough to witness something not many (if any) people have ever seen. I was free-diving the channel at Dyer Island, a seal colony that is host to many big Great White Sharks off the tip of the African continent. The boat alongside us had dumped a load of bait overboard before heading home and there were numerous small shark heads littering the kelpy bottom.

Shark Scavenging (299KB)I was diving 6 meters down, and lying flat on my belly near some of the shark heads, when a 4 meter Great White approached and "stalled" on the bottom to try and pick up the piece of bait that was rolling on the bottom! It obviously wasn't regular behavior because the large shark wasn't very skilled at bottom feeding!

I had to keep heading up for air, and had to make sure the shark wasn't swimming towards me at that moment, this is a sure-fire way of losing a leg or foot. There's something buried in the instinct of a Great White that tells it to chase and bite anything swimming up to the surface...

The shark had three more attempts at picking up the head and finally succeeded. It then set about searching for another easy meal. This is what backfired on me! There I was lying on the bottom with a single breath of air, and the Great White swam straight for me, confusing my white camera housing for a piece of bait.

Shark nose firstWhen it was a foot from my lens, about to sample the camera and perhaps a bit of me for lunch, I lost my nerve and tried to bump the shark's nose. The sudden movement startled the shark and it turned and swam off.

Observing this behavior poses questions about the Great White Shark, thought to be a pelagic predator. I've since seen a White carry off a large Bronze Whaler carcass to devour it later, just like a dog! I have that on film too, but that's another story altogether...

copyright ©2001 Graeme Duane