Scientists have captured footage of a shark being eaten whole during a feeding frenzy at the bottom of the ocean, 80 miles off the coast of South Carolina. The small shark is seen swimming past a camera before being swallowed head-first by a large, boney wreckfish—a deep-sea species that can grow up to 6.5 feet in length and weigh 220 pounds.
Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were filming the ocean floor as part of their "Windows to the Deep 2019" expedition. The remotely operated Deep Discoverer was traveling towards what the team thought was a shipwreck 1,476 feet beneath the surface of the ocean.
Instead, it came across a dead swordfish that was being eaten by a group of sharks "in what looked to be a feeding frenzy," the NOAA said in a statement. "Upon closer approach, the lights revealed a dead swordfish, approximately 2.5 meters [8 feet] in length, lying on the seafloor with at least 11 sharks circling and feeding 'vigorously' on the swordfish's skin and muscle tissue."
Researchers estimate the swordfish had only been dead a few hours. However, in that time massive damage had been inflicted by the sharks, with hundreds of bites to the creature's body. There were two species of shark at the feast—Genie's dogfish and roughskin dogfish. Both are found in the deep sea, living at depths between 700 and 2,000 feet.
As the rover filmed the sharks, something unusual happened. A wreckfish was filmed ambushing a small dogfish, swallowing it right in front of the camera. "While we watched, a large wreckfish caught and swallowed whole one of the sharks as it approached the swordfish," the NOAA said.
The team says this shows the ability of large predators to feed on smaller sharks, and how it used the shark's feeding opportunity for its own meal.
"You can't plan on seeing these kinds of things, especially in the deep ocean," the statement said. "It is simply serendipity; by just spending enough time underwater and being prepared for the unexpected, you can stumble across scenes that will replay in your mind's eye over and over for a lifetime."
The footage was taken during the seventh dive of the expedition. Researchers were looking for the Bloody Marsh shipwreck. This was a T2-SE-A1 oil tanker that sank during WWII off the coast of South Carolina, having been hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat. "The ROV reached the target and surveyed the surrounding area, but it was determined that the location was, unfortunately, not a shipwreck site," the NOAA said.