Sharks and Ram Feeding

When you think of sharks and eating, the first thing that comes to your mind is all those Great White Shark videos you have seen on television. The shark comes screaming up from the bottom of the ocean to strike an unaware seal, breaching from the water, and slamming back down into the waves with a mouthful. Blood goes everywhere and on occasion the seal doesn’t get taken down with the shark so it painfully tries to escape; only to be struck again moments later to its utter demise.

You may also think of ambush attacks from the sea floor like that of the Angel Shark or other bottom-dwelling fishes. The last type of feeding that would come to mind when you think of a shark would be that of ram feeding or lunge feeding as it is also known. When you think of ram feeding you quickly have a picture of whales in your mind, with large gaping mouths and millions of tiny krill swimming for their lives, not sharks.

Look Beyond Jaws

Perhaps if you thought a little more you might realize that there is at least one species of shark that has a large gaping mouth and even includes “whale” in its name. For the not-so-fast thinkers out there, the shark you are looking for is the Whale Shark.

The Whale Shark is the largest species of shark alive today but is less of a stereotypical shark and more like a whale when you view their ridiculous size and how they acquires food. The Whale Shark was built perfectly to utilize a feeding method that is much different than its cousins the Great White Shark.

Eating the Whale Shark Way

Instead of ambushing its prey in an exciting display of speed, blood, and teeth, the Whale Shark feeds utilizing a style known as ram feeding. According to Wikipedia, ram feeding “is a method of feeding underwater in which the predator moves forward with its mouth open, engulfing the prey along with the water surrounding it.”

In other words, the Whale Shark and other ram feeders swim behind a large school of prey (i.e. krill, sardines, etc.), open there ridiculously large mouths and just take a big gulp of water and food. There is no drama, no splashes, and no blood. It is kind of anti-climactic when you think of how sharks eat, but it is still interesting in its own way.

The Whale Shark though is not a pure ram feeder. In actuality the Whale Shark actually sucks the water into its mouth using an intricate system of muscles and gill function. It’s basically like taking a big gulp of chicken noodle soup and eating the broth, noodles, and chicken. The only difference between you and the Whale Shark is you don’t excrete some of the intake of liquid out through gills on the side of your head.

“Pure” Ram Feeders

If you want to take a look at “pure” ram feeders you need to look no further than the Basking or Megamouth Sharks. Unlike the Whale Sharks, these species don’t actively suck water into their large mouths, they simply let the forward motion of their bodies pull water into their mouths. This would be like you swimming in the pool with your mouth open and the water going into your stomach just because you were moving forward.

The human system does not allow us to do this without drowning, but the ram feeders in the marine world have perfected it so that water comes out of their gills and their respiratory system is not affected by this feeding method. In the end, sharks that utilize ram feeding are basically gentle giants and simply just coast through the water with mouths open wide, taking in whatever is in front of them.