If you're a shark, what could you possibly have to fear? You're the ultimate predator, the top of the marine food chain. You can swim around without a care in the world... unless another, even bigger shark is feeling hungry.
That's exactly what happened in this photo snapped by researchers from the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. It's the first known photo of a shark eating another shark, although at first glance it may look less like a shark-on-shark attack and more like the seabed coming alive and swallowing a shark whole.
That's because the predator in this situation is what's known as a tasselled wobbegong shark, which is a type of carpet shark. Just like their name implies, carpet sharks are generally flattened sharks with carpet-like patterns on their bodies that spend most of their time lying around on the bottom of the ocean. They generally dine on small fish or invertebrates, but the wobbegong shark can dislocate its jaw in order to chow down on something much bigger — in this case, a brown-banded bamboo shark.
Writing in the journal Coral Reef, the researchers describe their encounter with this shark-eat-shark moment:
At midday on 1 August 2011, while conducting and underwater visual census of fishes on the fringing reef of Great Keppel Island (Great Barrier Reef, Australia), the authors encountered a tasselled wobbegong shark lying on the substratum with the head of a brown-banded bamboo shark in its mouth. During the 30-min observation period, neither shark moved position and the wobbegong did not further ingest the bamboo shark. We assume that it would have taken at least several more hours to completely consume the bamboo shark.
Previous research has revealed shark remains inside the stomachs of carpet sharks, so we knew that this phenomenon occurred. But these images are our first glimpse of this remarkable phenomenon in action. And when gazing upon a sight such as this, when confronted by the infinite majesty and variation of the natural world, all I can really think to say to encapsulate my deepest, most profound reactions is this: holy shit, that's a shark eating another shark.