Teenage Great White Sharks Are Awkward Biters

Science Scope, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Teenage Great White Sharks Are Awkward Biters


The jaws of adolescent great white sharks may be too weak to capture and kill large marine mammals, according to a new study.

The study is the first of its kind to use sophisticated three-dimensional computer models and advanced engineering techniques to examine how different sharks hunt and kill prey. Detailed computer simulations examined the feeding behavior of two threatened shark species: the harmless grey nurse--or sand tiger--and the notorious great white.

Digital models revealed that the jaws of grey nurse sharks are spring-loaded for a rapid strike on small, fast-moving fish, while those of great whites are better suited for a powerful bite on prey ranging in size from small fish to large marine mammals.

"We were surprised that although the teeth and jaws of our sub-adult great white shark looked the part and the muscles were there to drive them, the jaws themselves just couldn't handle the stress associated with big bites on big prey," says study co-author Stephen Wroe, who heads the Computational Biomechanics Research Group in the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The reason for this appears to be that until great whites reach a length of about 3 meters or more their jaws haven't developed enough stiff mineralized cartilage to resist the forces involved. …

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