Everyone knows the story: The little fish gets eaten by a big fish, and the big fish gets eaten by an even bigger fish, and so on.
But it isn't often that the big fish is a shark — in this case, a dogfish — that then gets swallowed whole by a much larger sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus), one of the nastiest-looking top predators in the ocean.
This bizarre "turducken of the sea" photo was captured by researchers at the University of Delaware's Ocean Exploration, Remote Sensing, Biogeography (ORB) Lab. The scientists were in Delaware Bay this month to recapture sand tiger sharks that had been tagged with satellite-tracking tags, or to recover tags that had come off prematurely. [See Video of Shark Trapping & Tagging]
To capture a sand tiger shark, researchers baited a hook with a menhaden, a common marine fish, which was quickly snatched up by a smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis). "This unlucky smooth dogfish couldn't resist the menhaden used as bait and, unfortunately, fell victim to one of the top predators in the bay," ORB researchers wrote on their Facebook page. "The dogfish was about 3 feet [1 meter] long and completely swallowed by the sand tiger shark."
The sand tiger shark is also called the ragged-tooth shark because of its three fearsome rows of protruding teeth, which the sharks use to spear their prey (usually lobsters, rays, squid and smaller fish). Despite their terrifying demeanor, sand tiger sharks are not aggressive toward humans, and are common in aquariums because of their size — they can grow to be 10 feet (3 m) long — and their breeding success in captivity.
The hungry female sand tiger shark photographed here was tagged and released.