Are dogs a shark's favorite meal?

Grant Imahara, of Discovery Channel’s "MythBusters": Just begging to be eaten.
Copyright Discovery Communications, LLC

Imagine you're floating like a bobber in the ocean, waves lapping at your face. You kick your feet lackadaisically from time to time to keep your head above water. It's relaxing. Then you suddenly remember that there are sharks in the ocean. Millions of them. And there you are, like some goof, just begging to be eaten.

You try to remain calm, but you rapidly make your way back into shore. Finally, you're back on solid ground, unmolested by a shark of any variety. Being the curious type, you head straight home to research shark attacks. Surprisingly, you find there are far fewer than you expected. In 2007, there were 71 reported shark attacks, only one of them resulting in death [source: University of Florida].


It seems like a low number, considering how scared humans are of sharks. Seventy percent of respondents in a 2003 poll said they felt sharks are dangerous [source: CNN]. And there's even a term for excessive fear of sharks: galeophobia [source: Medical Dictionary]. But as negative an image we have of sharks, they're simply not that interested in eating us. Because we live in different habitats, sharks haven't had the opportunity to develop a taste for humans. And although we're becoming an increasingly obese species, we're nothing compared to blubbery seals, one of predatory sharks' favorite foods.

Another species that may share your house could be another story. Would your dog serve as an appetizing snack for a shark? Shark attacks on dogs have certainly been reported. One woman lost her Pomeranian -- Rex -- after he went swimming in the Bremer River in Australia in January 2008. The woman believes Rex was attacked by one of the bull sharks known to swim into the river [source: Queensland Times]. The idea that sharks eat dogs was further spread by the British tabloid The Sun in 2005. The paper reported that dogs were being used as live bait in the French territory of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean [source: The Sun].

So have the fishermen of Reunion Island happened on a grisly new type of bait for shark fishing? Are dogs a shark's favorite meal? Find out on the next page.


Dog for Dinner: Shark Diet

Tory Bellici, of Discovery Channel’s "MythBusters," assists RoboDog, the robotic dog used on the show to test whether sharks like to eat dogs.
Copyright Discovery Communications, LLC

So do sharks consider dog a culinary delicacy? The answer is a resounding no. Of the more than 350 known species of sharks, none prefer the piquant taste of your favorite pet. This isn't to say that if Rover went for a swim where some types of sharks hunted that he wouldn't be eaten. The sharks that would likely eat your pet -- the tiger, bull and great white sharks -- are also the top three sharks responsible for attacks on humans.

Perhaps the likeliest shark species to eat your dog is the tiger shark. This specimen is widely known as the "garbage can of the sea," as it bears little scrutiny toward what makes up its caloric intake [source: Sea World]. The stomach contents of captured tiger sharks have yielded such dietary array as other sharks, sea turtles, squid, birds, car license plates and shoes [source: National Geographic].


Bull sharks, which can grow to 11 feet (3.5 m) long and weigh as much as 500 pounds (226.8 kg), may have more opportunity to eat your pet. This species tends to spend most of its time hunting for food along coastlines, where a dog might be likely to fetch a stick thrown by its owner. Like tiger sharks, bull sharks are opportunistic: They will eat generally whatever they encounter. This includes animals like horses, hippopotami and -- yes -- dogs. The bull shark's deadly combination of serrated teeth and extremely poor vision makes it entirely possible your dog would go from beloved pet to dinner if it happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But what about great white sharks? Thanks to movies like "Jaws," this species has become among the scariest around in the minds of humans. In reality, the great white's threatening reputation is largely unearned. During the 427 years between 1580 and 2007, there were 64 recorded deaths from unprovoked great white shark attacks [source: University of Florida]. Conversely, an estimated 50 to 70 million sharks (of all species) are killed by humans each year [source: Questacon].

Data does show that great whites are responsible for the most shark attacks annually. One study of great whites reveals that these attacks are generally the result of mistaken identity. Attacks on humans or dogs come from the great white's method of hunting. Most predatory sharks, like the great white, prefer fatty prey. Great whites particularly favor seals, which have a high blubber content. While the blubber keeps seals warm even in the coldest water, it's a tasty temptation for a shark. Sharks will also go after whales, which also have large amounts of fatty tissue.

A shark will seize a potential food source with its strong jaws. As hard as a great white can bite, it can also be surprisingly gentle. It uses this gingerly touch to determine whether the object in question is food (like a seal) or something unappetizing (like your dog). If the great white deems the animal isn't fat enough to eat, it will let go. This is why most great white shark attacks don't result in death.

Of course, if your dog is grossly overweight, it could be confused for a seal. And that would likely not pan out well for your dog.


Lots More Information

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  • Gengrich, Megan. "Bull shark took my dog." Queensland Times. January 11, 2008.
  • Hepburn, Ian. "Dogs used as shark bait." The Sun. September 28, 2005.
  • Legon, Jeordan. "Survey: 'Shark summer' bred fear, not facts." CNN. March 14, 2003.
  • "Definition of fear of sharks." Medical Dictionary.
  • "Fins and things: Shark attacks on humans." Questacon.
  • "Sharks." Australian Museum. 2003.
  • "Sharks and rays: Diet and eating habits." Sea World.
  • "Sharks great and small." PBS.
  • "Sharks loathe taste of humans." Reuters. June 23, 1999.
  • "Tiger shark." National Geographic.
  • "What do sharks eat?" Discovery Channel.
  • "What sharks eat; the stuff founding the stomach of one of these monsters." New York Times. August 25, 1881.
  • "World shark attacks rise slightly but continue long-term dip." University of Florida. February 15, 2007.