Deep sea explorers recording a rarely witnessed shark feeding on the ocean floor say the violence took a strange turn when a large wreckfish ambushed one of feasting sharks and swallowed it whole.
The video concludes with the very satisfied wreckfish gliding past the camera -- a shark’s tail wiggling from between its lips.
NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research posted the video July 5, reporting “the rare and startling event” played out late last month about 80 miles off South Carolina, at a depth of 1,476 feet.
“A group of sharks in what looked to be a feeding frenzy appeared in the dim reaches of (the camera) lights,” team member Peter Auster wrote in a June 28 report.
“Upon closer approach, the lights revealed a dead swordfish, approximately 2.5 meters (8 feet) in length, lying on the seafloor with at least 11 sharks circling and feeding ‘vigorously’ on the swordfish’s skin and muscle tissue. The swordfish was clearly recently deceased, perhaps only a few hours.”
The remote camera hovered until the swordfish was almost completely eaten, even capturing closeups of the sharks gnawing and tugging at the flesh. The swordfish was nearly gone when a wreckfish appeared out of nowhere, using the camera as cover.
“It (the wreckfish) demonstrated the ability of large predatory fishes to feed on smaller sharks,” wrote Auster, a senior research scientist at the Mystic Aquarium and University of Connecticut. “The wreckfish appears unable to feed on the swordfish directly itself, but by joining the sharks, it was able to feed on an animal that was.”
Wreckfish grow up to six and a half feet in length and weigh up to 220 pounds, NOAA says.
The cluster of deep-sea sharks in the video consists of two species: Genie’s dogfish and roughskin dogfish, NOAA says.
“This rare and startling event leaves us with more questions than answers, but such is the nature of scientific exploration,” Auster wrote.
“How do sharks and other species detect large food falls (on the ocean floor)? It could be chemical trails, the vibrations of prey struggling, or the sound of one or more predators who initially found the prey and started feeding. How far of a distance can these animals detect such opportunities? How often do such events happen?”
The NOAA-backed team was off South Carolina in search of a World War II shipwreck, which eluded discovery. The search is part of the Windows to the Deep 2019 project, investigating sites off the East Coast through July 12.