In the battle of shark vs crocodile, it’s tough to know where to put your money. Both are among nature’s most fearsome predators, ruling nearly unchallenged at the top of their respective food chains. Both are equipped with highly developed sensory organs that allow them to locate prey from far off, as well as world-class jaw strength that makes closing the deal a snap. Their habitats overlap, too, giving rise to a mutual antipathy that is literally the stuff of legend.
According to Indonesian folklore, Sura (shark) and Baya (crocodile) were good friends that nonetheless often clashed over prey. After one particularly bruising battle, they agreed to divide their territory between land and sea, each keeping to their own realm to avoid more conflict. On the site of their final fight rose the Indonesian city of Surabaya, which adopted their story as its origin myth.
Though the shark and crocodile of legend went their separate ways, their modern-day real-life counterparts still sometimes chance to meet. And when they do, as the videos below demonstrate, odds are good that something interesting—maybe even epic—is about to go down. See for yourself in this series of shark vs crocodile showdowns.
Sometimes the Crocodile Eats the Shark
In 2021, research scientist Mark Ziembicki captured a remarkable series of photographs documenting the moment a 1,500-pound Nile crocodile swallowed a young bull shark in southwest Australia. As Ziembicki wrote, “When apex predators meet, who has the edge? It’s an old debate but a bit of a moot point here given the large size difference.” Indeed, size is often the determining factor in who wins any shark vs crocodile dustup. Yet even when the foes are more closely matched, crocodiles have been seen using a variety of tactics to subdue large sharks, like the big croc in Australia’s Northern Territory that was filmed thrashing a 6- to 7-foot shark “like a rag doll.” As it happens, the saltwater crocodile (with a bite force of 3,700-pounds per square inch) and the great white shark (with a bite force of 4,000-psi) have a firm grip on the top two spots on the list of the most powerful jaws on the planet.
Sometimes the Shark Eats the Crocodile
Saltwater crocodiles are excellent swimmers and have been spotted far out at sea. It seems a fair bet that any saltie caught in open water with its belly exposed to the deep would be vulnerable to a shark attacking from below, but the odds of capturing that on film are probably pretty long. Scientists have documented sharks eating smaller crocodiles (heck, big crocodiles have been documented eating smaller crocodiles), but proof of large sharks killing large crocs remains elusive. The most persuasive evidence may have been a decapitated crocodile head found on a beach in St. Lucia, South Africa, in 2013. The cleanly severed head bore signs of shark attack, according to a report in the Daily Mail that quoted a local couple who closely examined the find. In a videotape that has since been taken down, the man can be heard to say, “You can see where the shark has actually ripped it. … On the side here in the flesh you can see the shark teeth.” Based on the size of the head, the croc was estimated to be 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) long. With great white sharks capable of growing to 20 feet and 4,500 pounds, the theory seems plausible.
Sometimes It’s a Standoff
Sharks and crocs both have sensitive pressure receptors that help them detect the movement of potential prey underwater. For sharks, these sensors are in their lateral line, a series of fluid-filled canals that run from snout to tail. For crocodiles, multi-sensory organs in their skin called domed pressure receptors are thought to allow the reptiles to detect surface pressure waves with fingertip-like sensitivity. It’s likely, then, that the saltwater croc and the bull shark whose standoff was spied by a drone camera in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia in 2020 were aware of each other’s presence long before they got close enough to confirm exactly what they were dealing with. Once that happens, the bull shark pulls an abrupt U-turn and charts a wide course around the massive croc. Smart move, given that the croc—estimated to be 16 feet long—looks 3 or 4 times larger than the shark.
Sometimes Both Shark and Crocodile Win
Fights over food may have driven Sura and Baya apart, but scientists now know that sharks and crocs can tolerate each other, at least when there’s plenty of grub to go around. Such was the case in the 2018 footage captured by NatGeo Wild that showed two 10-foot tiger sharks and a 13-foot saltwater crocodile scavenging a dead whale. It was the first time the two apex predators had been documented feeding side-by-side, and it is also the first known record of a saltie feasting on whale flesh.
The Fisherman Usually Loses
Crocodiles are ferocious hunters. But they’re also opportunistic scavengers all too happy to take advantage of an easy meal, and it doesn’t get much easier than a played-out fish at the end of an angler’s line. The internet is teeming with videos shot by indignant fishermen who lost their shark catches to marauding crocs, but you’re probably not going to find an angler more rattled than this one.
Though the question of who wins the battle of shark vs crocodile when they are both big and both fresh may ultimately be impossible to answer, one thing is certain: When the shark is already worn out and reeled in, it’s no contest.
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