6 min read

The Strange Truth Behind The Video Of A Shark Eating A Shark

One of the sharks at an aquarium in Seoul, South Korea, seems to have sent an unsettling message to her fellow tank mates.

Don't mess with the shark with the shark hanging out of her mouth.

In a video that's gone wildly viral, a large sand tiger shark devours a smaller banded hound shark in a slow, spectacular - and agonizing - feast that took 21 hours.

Maju Tak Gentar / YouTube

And, in true aquarium fashion, the meal was consumed in front of throngs of cow-eyed visitors pressed up against glass.

Why did she do it?

The 8-year-old female tiger shark at COEX Aquarium ate her former roommate - a smaller, younger male - bite by bite, starting with the head.

Maju Tak Gentar / YouTube

Aquarium officials have likened the act, which is a first at the aquarium, to a "turf war."

"Sharks have their own territory," an aquarium staffer told Reuters on Friday. "However, sometimes, when they bump into each other, they bite out of astonishment."

But from the aquarium keepers to the crowds pressed against the glass, to the YouTube gawkers, there seems to be plenty of astonishment to go around.

Could this have happened in the wild?

Compared with the sprawling ocean where these sharks belong, there certainly isn't much turf to go around. According to a South Korean tourism website, COEX hosts around 40,000 "sea creatures" all apparently tucked into around 130 tanks, with an additional 90 tanks for breeding.

Maju Tak Gentar / YouTube

After all, we've seen the soul-crushing ways of aquarium life. From the depressed denizens of SeaWorld to this week's bleak exposé on captive whales at Marineland, aquariums seem to showcase little more than the death pirouettes of a species.

It's obviously less likely that a turf war would happen in the open ocean with infinite space - but according to Defenders of Wildlife, it's not unheard of for sharks to eat other sharks, even in the wild.

Maju Tak Gentar/ YouTube

We saw a similar swallowing at a Japanese aquarium in 2014.

They are, after all apex predators, not known to be terribly finicky about what they eat. As long as it's meat - and it's smaller than them.

We'd feel much more comfortable with nature taking its course, though, if it actually happened, well, in nature.

But is it cannibalism?

What's freaking out the internet is that a shark ate his fellow shark. But if we're being technical about things, cannibalism is the eating of the same species - which the sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) and the banded hound shark (Triakis scyllium) are not.

Maju Tak Gentar / YouTube

So what does this all have to do with captivity?

It's hard to say.

Yet even if making a statement against captivity wasn't this tiger shark's dark design - even if a casual encounter at the aquarium just randomly resulted in this long, drawn-out scene of abject horror - there is still certainly something sad about it all.

As serviceable as having "130 tanks" for marine life may seem on paper, it's literally a drop in the ocean, which is where these magnificent, free-ranging animals belong.

This isn't the ballet. Does it really seem like they're having a wonderful time in there?

Just set them free already.