Proof of a rarely witnessed predator-on-predator sea battle emerged days ago off South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, when a bottlenose dolphin was seen with evidence of a large shark bite.
That’s unexpected because sharks reportedly “swim in fear of dolphins,” which are quicker and more agile than sharks in a fight to the death, according to experts at SeaWorld.
What became of the shark is a mystery. However, news of the attack comes as “thousands” of great white sharks are gathering off the Southeastern U.S. for winter, shark researchers say.
Photos of the dolphin were posted Dec. 11 by Lauren Rust, head of the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network based in Charleston.
“We believe this dolphin got lucky and survived a shark bite,” Rust wrote on Facebook.
“Dolphins are considered a top predator and generally don’t interact with sharks. But sometimes sharks will target young or sick dolphins, possibly when food resources are low.”
Or perhaps when competition is tough.
The wound was recent but showed signs of healing, Rust told McClatchy News. The dolphin began appearing off Kiawah Island only a few weeks ago, and was not well known to researchers, she told McClatchy.
Evidence of the attack comes just days after shark experts with OCEARCH reported great white sharks are gathering between Cape Hatteras on North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Healthy dolphins are not standard fare on the great white shark menu, but scars like the one Rust photographed are proof dolphins are attacked and frequently survive, studies show.
One such study, published in 2017 by Florida researcher Krystan Wilkinson, found 37 percent of the dolphins photographed in Sarasota Bay, Florida, from 1975 to 2013 had a shark bite scar or wound.
“Shark versus dolphin is an epic oceanic battle — pitting brain against brawn, social cooperation against rugged individualism,” reported Joshua Rapp Learn in Hakai Magazine.
“But while the war has likely run for millions of years, the skirmishes are fleeting, brief, and rarely witnessed,” he wrote.