If asked to picture a great white shark on the hunt, you'd probably imagine a dorsal fin slicing through the surface of the ocean and hear the da-dum Jaws theme in your head. A new study, however, suggests that image might be misleading. Researchers say the sharks appear to spend a lot more time than expected foraging near the ocean floor. Scientists examined the stomach contents of 40 juvenile great whites caught off the coast of eastern Australia and discovered that 17% of the sharks' diet came from bottom-dwelling fish such as sole or flathead, per a release at Phys.org. Another 15% came from "batoid" fish such as stringrays, also frequently found near the ocean floor, reports Newsweek. As expected, the single biggest percentage (32%) came from "mid-water" fish such as salmon.
"The stereotype of a shark's dorsal fin above the surface as it hunts is probably not a very accurate picture," says the University of Sydney's Richard Grainger, lead author of the study in Frontiers in Marine Science. Noting that a surprising amount of the diet came from fish on the seafloor or even buried in the sand, he says "the sharks must spend a good portion of their time foraging just above the seabed." The study is intended to shed more light on the sharks' migratory and feeding patterns, but researchers also hope it could help them devise strategies to reduce shark attacks on humans. (Great whites also swim farther out to sea than previously thought.)