Shark hunts are often portrayed as vicious blood baths of extreme proportions. Luckily, that's pretty far from the truth. Shark food habits tend to revolve around calm, stealthy kills, prey mostly consisting of fish, and sharks eating alone. However, there is an occasional instance where all that tranquility goes out the window...and that's a shark feeding frenzy. When these frenzies happen, sharks go nuts, biting anything and everything they can get their teeth into. Even other sharks.
But even during a frenzy, shark violence still not everything you see in movies. Sharks don't go into a violent rage where they seek out people to kill. Although scientists are still uncovering more about sharks and why they go into frenzies, what they do know so far is just as fascinating as it is terrifying.
So, whether you're still afraid to go back in the water, or you think sharks are the coolest animals out there, prepare to learn something. You'll have to decide if what you find out is scary, or just plain awesome.
To the average observer, a feeding frenzy is a terrifying thing. Unlike with normal feeding habits, sharks do this in a group, with sudden and violent thrashing, and the presence of the other sharks only seem to make it more intense. Stealth is thrown to the wind, as is the usual slow circling form of hunting, making it seem like the sharks have just gone insane.
As people have described it, the sharks look frantic, quickly moving from one part of the source of food to the other. Sharks will appear to converge, all at once, on a single point, twisting and biting, then jerk away before attacking again in the same fashion. This is done again and again until the food source is depleted. They will chase down movement, and anything that gets in the way may be bitten, including other sharks.
Unfortunately for the sharks, this feeding frenzy where they seem to throw caution to the wind can lead to serious issues for the group of sharks. While some species that go into frenzies appear to keep some sense of calm, even including a pecking order, that is not usually the case. Instead, the sharks swarm and converge all at once, and anything between them and the food is in potential danger. That includes other sharks. Sharks involved in a feeding frenzy have been known to disembowel each other, and even eat each other in their excitement over new blood spilled. If not, they can still be injured by brief bites or impacts of their fellow frenziers.
If this kind of behavior is so potentially dangerous to sharks, then thy does it happen? Scientists aren't entirely certain on this, but there are several possible factors.
The instinct for a shark to eat is so strong that it tends to override pretty much anything else. During a feeding frenzy, that instinct is all the stronger. Research has shown that sharks will continue to eat even after they are full, perhaps as a survival instinct going back eons. They will also accidentally eat things that are not food, even including license plates and cannonballs! During a feeding frenzy, however, concentrating only on eating can have deadly results, not just for the potential prey.
When a feeding frenzy is happening, a shark will continue to eat even if it is injured. In fact, there are accounts of sharks being disemboweled, and continuing to try to eat and frenzy despite having a dire wound. Even if the wounded shark becomes a part of the prey during a feeding frenzy, they may continue trying to eat, even as their body is being consumed by others.
A large number of prey in the water can also cause a disturbance in the water as the animal tries to get away. Living things give off chemicals into the water when they are panicking, and that attracts sharks. The sharks then feel vibrations and movement in the water that indicate extreme distress, and this lets them know that they have an easy meal incoming. The more the water is disturbed by panic, for example by a school of frantically swimming fish, the more excited they get. Add blood to that mixture, and the sharks will begin to attack with ferocity.
On top of that, other sharks in the area swimming frantically and attacking things also disturb the water. This becomes a self-creating cycle, where the sharks all keep each other at a high level of excitement as they feed.