Crocodile vs Shark: Incredible Video Shows First Evidence of Predators Scavenging Together

Shark and croc
Sharks and crocodiles have been seen scavenging together for the first time. Albert Kok / JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images

In September 2017, a boat belonging to an Australian tour operator came across the 50-foot carcass of a humpback whale, floating in the waters off Kimberley, on the country's northwestern coast. The sight would have been impressive in its own right, but even more remarkable was the fact that four tiger sharks and a saltwater crocodile were feasting on the dead whale.

Crew member Jeremey Tucker captured a video of the feasting event using a drone and later posted it on social media, where it was spotted by shark expert Austin Gallagher, chief scientist at conservation organization Beneath the Waves.

Gallagher and his colleagues have now published a study in the Journal of Ethology which describes the events in the footage, confirming it as the first documented record of predatory sharks and saltwater crocodiles foraging together in "space and time". (Note: only two of the sharks can be seen in the footage).

Scavenging events such as these can be useful to scientists, because they often facilitate interactions with species rarely observed in nature.

"Scavenging is an important component to the overall ecology of consumers in virtually all ecosystems on Earth," the authors wrote in the study.

"Given the energetic benefits of foraging on these resource subsidies, opportunistic predators will adjust their behaviors accordingly to maximize access. We report on and discuss the behaviors of the sharks and crocodiles in the hope of shedding new light on the interactions between apex predators that are rarely seen together but may overlap under specific contexts."

Sharks and crocodilians do overlap in some coastal environments, although the majority of these documented interactions are between the adults of one species and the juveniles of another. Much less is known about the interactions between adult crocodilians and larger shark species, such as tiger sharks.

While saltwater crocodiles do eat dead animals, little is known about their scavenging habits. Tiger sharks, on the other hand, are known to source a significant part of their diet from scavenging.

Intriguingly, the drone footage shows that despite the fearsome reputation of both sharks and crocodiles, there was no no aggression between the animals and they appeared to be respecting each other's space, even eating from different parts of the whale.

While it is unclear why the crocodile and sharks kept out of each other's way, the reason could possibly be down to the size of the prey, or the fact that they didn't see each other as a threat in this situation, the researchers suggest. Furthermore, all the tiger sharks in the footage appear to be in a state of post-feeding torpor, suggesting they had been foraging for some time and were likely exhausted.

As drones fitted with camera technology become ever more popular, the scientists hope that such rare events will be captured on camera more often.