Reef shark checking out the diver

What Do Sharks Eat?

Sharks are among the most prolific hunters in the sea. As one of the ocean’s apex predators, sharks eat a wide variety of food.

Great White Shark

The Shark Diet

Sharks come in various shapes and sizes, meaning that their prey will differ depending on the type of shark and where they live.

Let’s go through the main sources of sustenance in a shark diet and what different species of sharks generally eat.


Fish of all sizes can end up as prey for sharks—including other sharks! Fish, in general, are the most common prey for sharks.

Whether they’re spiny dogfish all the way to great whites, sharks love eating fish. Some common species of fish that sharks hunt include:

  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Bass
  • Rays
  • Redfish

Sharks hunt fish by using sensory receptors located on their sides. These sense receptors are called lateral lines, and almost all fish have them.

Salmon fish swimming under water

Fish vary in their nutritional content. Some are high in fat, while others are lean. On average, an ounce of fish meat has between 40 and 80 calories, meaning a shark needs to eat a significant amount to sustain itself.

Seals and Sea Lions

Large sharks, like the great white, aren’t only predators of life in the seas but also of semi-aquatic marine life.

Sea lion

Seals and sea lions spend a significant amount of time in the water, making them the perfect prey for large sharks.

Great white sharks hunt seals and sea lions by thrusting themselves towards the surface and grabbing onto the animals with their powerful jaws.

Seal swimming underwater

Since seals and sea lions are high in fat due to their blubber, they are an extremely nutritious meal for a large shark.


Mollusks are a large category of lifeforms that include squid and octopi, as well as clams and oysters. Sharks that eat mollusks tend to be smaller.


They prey on small, shelled animals that have no means of escape. Larger sharks can eat larger mollusks, like octopuses or squid.

Hammerhead sharks, in particular, eat a lot of squid and octopus. Researchers have even found some sharks with squid beaks still in their stomachs!

Underwater close up of hammerhead shark

Sharks that hunt mollusks do it in various ways. When they’re shelled, sharks use special flat teeth to crush their prey.

When they hunt non-shelled mollusks, sharks usually employ similar methods to their fish hunts. Mollusks are a wide category of life, so their nutritional value is variable.


Sharks that eat crustaceans are bottom dwellers, or sharks that live near the ocean floor. They live there because their prey, crabs, lobsters, and other shellfish, live there too.

These sharks live at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to attack their prey. They have flat crushing teeth that they use to crush and grind shells, making crustaceans a solid option for food.

Crustaceans are high in protein, but low in fat and other nutrients. They have between 20 and 40 calories per ounce, depending on the species.

Dolphins and Small Whales

Dolphins and small whales, such as pilot whales and the dwarf sperm whale, are often prey for large sharks, such as the great white and tiger sharks.

Dolphins performing during a dolphin show with their trainers in a national zoo.


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