Do Sharks Attack Whales? [Not Always! Here’s Why]

Photo: Arnunthorn R / Shutterstock

Sharks and whales are large oceanic predators. They have a lot of similarities including their diets, but there is a key difference: size. Whales are a lot larger than sharks.

Sharks can attack whales, but typically they choose not to. Whales are gigantic, some are even longer than 90 feet! Usually, sharks only attack whales when they feel threatened or the whales are smaller than them.

Can Sharks Eat Whales?

Sharks have a large diet consisting of squid, fish, sea turtles, smaller sharks, and water mammals. Whales are water mammals, but they are large.

The average shark is 5-7 feet long and yet half of all shark species are less than 39 inches long. These small to intermediate sharks do not have the strength to take down a 300+ pound whale!

While sharks rarely hunt whales, there have been documented reports of great white sharks feasting on whale carcasses.

In South Africa, cameras caught a Great White shark taking down a young humpback whale for the first time in history. The whale was about three times the shark’s size.

Which Type of Sharks Attack Whales?

So far, there are only a few documented cases of sharks attacking whales. It is important to know that not all sharks will attack whales, especially small shark species and nursery sharks.

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Some Great White sharks have hunted and killed a juvenile whale. More recently, a group of 10-20 Dusky sharks chased, hunted, and attacked a 4-meter-long young whale.

Which Type of Whales Do Sharks Attack?

There are over 500 shark species in the world and only 40 different ‌whales. So, which types of whales do sharks attack? Usually, sharks stay away from adult whales because of their size.

When a large shark, like a Great White shark, feels confident, it can attack young whales, specifically baby minke whales.

Minke whales on average weigh up to 20,000 pounds and are the smallest of the ‘great’ and ‘large’ whales. Newborn Minke whales are 7.9 to 9.2 ft long, compared to 35 feet long adult Minke whales.

Do Whales Keep Sharks Away?

Whales and sharks rarely interact because their environments are different. Since whales are such large aquatic mammals, they prefer to stay in deep waters with plenty of space.

Sharks can swim into deep waters, but they live and sleep closer to the surface of the water so it is easier to hunt.

Orca whales are the only whales that sharks react to. Great White sharks will rapidly swim away if they spot an Orca whale in their feeding and hunting ground.

Animals Sharks Are Afraid Of

Sharks are intelligent and independent animals, hunting and living alone. There are a few animals that sharks stay clear from as their ‘flight’ instinct kicks in.

For example, sharks are afraid of dolphins. While dolphins do not eat shark meat because of how tough it is, they are protectors and will gang up on sharks.

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Dolphins typically eat fish, squid, shrimps, jellyfish, and other small crustaceans.

While one shark may have a chance of defeating one dolphin, the odds change when multiple dolphins (a pod) cleverly work together to fight, kill, or chase away the large predator.

Larger species of sharks hunt for young and vulnerable aquatic mammals like baby dolphins. However, baby dolphins are rarely alone.

Sharks have a dolphin phobia because dolphins are flexible animals that can swim quickly and get the upper hand in a situation. A dolphin’s tail is perfectly shaped for quick attacks and speed.

Dolphins are a lot smarter than sharks. These animals can plan out attacks in groups for safety.

What Eats Sharks In The Ocean?

Not all animals that attack sharks in the ocean will eat their meat. Shark meat is tough and resembles rubber.

For instance, dolphins attack sharks to protect their sick, vulnerable, and baby pod members, but they do not consume the shark once it is dead. Instead, dolphins only want to scare away sharks.

The biggest predator in the Ocean that consumes shark meat are Orca whales. These massive ‘killer whales’ are like dolphins, but they like the taste of sharks.

Many people have recorded Orca whale pods viciously attacking great white sharks, bull sharks, and blue sharks.

Orca whales are interesting because they do not eat the entire dead body of a shark, but only the inside. These whales rip apart Great White sharks to feast on shark livers and hearts.

Young sharks are the most threatened and vulnerable sharks in the seas. Larger mammals like whales and squid will feast on young pups, but they are usually protected in shark nurseries.

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Shark eggs are just as vulnerable. Did you know sharks also eat other sharks? Cannibalism is frequent with different shark species like tiger sharks.

Gray Nurse shark pups participate in intrauterine cannibalism, in the uterus. They eat each other until only one to two sharks are left.

Largest Threats To Sharks

While Orca whales and Dolphins are not afraid to attack sharks, they are not the biggest threat to the shark population.

The shark population struggles to increase because of overfishing. The population of fish in oceans is decreasing rapidly, changing the ecosystem.

In many parts of the world, sharks are hunted by humans for their fins. A fisherman will slice the fin off of a shark and toss it back into the water.

Approximately 37% of all shark species are considered endangered and are likely to go extinct. Four species of sharks are thought to be extinct because they have not been spotted in 80 years.

Sharks are not like other fish and only reproduce every 2-3 years. Some shark species, like the Tiger Shark, can only carry one to two pups per cycle, making it hard to maintain a large population.

To Conclude

All in all, sharks rarely attack whales. Sharks are usually smaller than whales and instead will run if they sense a larger predator, like Orca whales.

Instead, few sharks attack young whales or feast on whale carcasses if available.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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