A Little-Known Fish Takes a Star Turn by Eating a Shark in One Gulp

A wreckfish with a shark's tail hanging out of its mouth.
All that remained of the shark was a telltale tail. NOAA

You may not have heard of the peculiar denizens of the deep known as wreckfish. Despite their daunting dimensions — they can weigh up to 220 pounds and stretch six-and-a-half feet — they mostly swim under the radar.

Among the savvier citizens of the sea, they live as long as 70 years, probably by keeping to themselves. They frequent the deepest depths of the western Atlantic Ocean between Newfoundland and Argentina. Their name comes from their haunting habit of lurking in caves and shipwrecks.

But recently, one took a star-making turn — by devouring an entire shark in one gulp.

A research team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just happened to be combing the depths just off South Carolina with a remotely operated vehicle. They were searching for a frigate sunk by German submarines during World War II.

(A shipwreck ... Hmmm ... wonder who might be lurking nearby?)

"Food Fall" Frenzy

The team came across a shark feeding frenzy. They ended up capturing a "once-in-a-lifetime event." The sharks likely thought they had come across a much-needed buffet about 1,500 feet below the surface — the carcass of an 8-foot long swordfish. In fact, as NOAA notes, the hungry herd had likely traveled an enormous distance to reach what scientists call a "food fall."

Dogfish eating the carcass of a swordfish.
At least 11 dogfish were feasting on the remains of a swordfish n the ocean floor. NOAA

"When a large food fall occurs, like a 250-plus pound swordfish, the ability to detect and locate the food, and then maximize food intake, is the key to growth and survival," Peter Auster, a senior scientist at the Mystic Aquarium and professor at the University of Connecticut, writes in a NOAA mission log.

At least 11 of them dug in enthusiastically to this breakfast of champions.

One shark then became the breakfast of wreckfish.

A wreckfish with a shark's tail hanging out of its mouth.
All that remained of the shark was a telltale tail. NOAA

Dogfish Demise

Granted the shark in question was no great white, but rather a dogfish — a bottom-dweller that feeds mostly on things that are already dead, and typically doesn't stretch more than a couple of feet. This particular dogfish, as a juvenile, was even smaller. Still those trademark spurs on its back might have caused any other potential predator to at least to re-think his dining choice.

But not the wreckfish. In one terrifying gulp, the shark disappears, leaving only its tail dangling from the creature's mouth — a moment that produces a loud response from the voices in the video. (You'll note they refer to it as a grouper, a similar fish.)

Researchers can't quite explain why the wreckfish diverted from its typical diet of squid and octopus with crustaceans on the side.

Perhaps, the lineup at the buffet was just too long. Better to just eat one of the diners.

"This rare and startling event leaves us with more questions than answers," Auster writes. "But such is the nature of scientific exploration."