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White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) scavenging on whales and its potential role in further shaping the ecology of an apex predator

Chris Fallows, Austin J Gallagher, Neil Hammerschlag
PloS One 2013, 8 (4): e60797
23585850
Scavenging, a result of a temporary pulse of resources, occurs in virtually all ecosystems containing carnivores, and is an important energy transfer pathway that can impact ecosystem structure and function, and this ecological significance has largely been considered from a terrestrial standpoint; however, little is known about the role of scavenging in shaping the behavioral ecology of marine species, specifically apex predators. Here we present findings from multiple opportunistic observations of white sharks scavenging on whale carcasses in False Bay, South Africa. Observations of white sharks scavenging over successive days provided evidence of strategic and selective scavenging by this species. Moreover, extended daily observations permitted recordings of unique social, aggregative, and feeding behaviors. We further compare these data against observations of natural predation by sharks on seals in the study area. We discuss these data in relation to environmental conditions, shark social interactions, migration patterns, whale biology, and behaviorally-mediated trophic cascades. While the appearance of a whale carcass is largely a stochastic event, we propose that white shark scavenging on whales may represent an underestimated, yet significant component to the overall foraging ecology of this species, especially as individuals attain sexual maturity.

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