Shark spits out spiky, land-loving creature for shocked scientists in Australia

A tiger shark has surprised Australian scientists during an ocean survey by regurgitating a spiny, land-loving echidna in front of their eyes.

Researchers from James Cook University said Thursday that they were tagging marine life on the northeast coast when the three-metre tiger shark they caught regurgitated a dead echidna – a spiny creature that looked like a hedgehog.

Nicolas Lubitz said he could only assume the shark had swallowed the echidna – also known as spiny anteaters – as it swam in the shallow water off the island, or traveled between islands, as the animals are known to do.

“We were quite shocked by what we saw. We really didn't know what was going on,” he said Thursday. “When it spit it out, I looked at it and said, 'What the hell is that?'”

Lubitz said he rushed to get his phone. “I was only able to take one photo, but you can see the outline of the echidna in the water,” he said.

A tiger shark not long after regurgitating an echidna off the coast of Orpheus Island in May 2022.

Nic Lubitz, James Cook University


Lubitz said the dead echidna was whole when it was regurgitated in May 2022, leading scientists to assume the shark had only recently eaten it.

Echidnas – found only in Australia and New Guinea – are egg-laying mammals, have spines protruding from their bodies and use a beak-like snout to eat ants. According to WWFDuring the breeding season, echidnas like to form a “train” in which up to 10 male echidnas follow a female in the hope of becoming her mate.

It is unclear how many of these animals live in the wild.

“Tiger sharks will eat anything. They're just scavengers. I've seen videos of them eating a rock for no reason,” Lubitz said. “I think the echidna must have just felt a little strange in its throat.”

The tiger shark was unharmed after its spiky snack and scientists fitted it with an acoustic tracker before releasing it back into the water.

As part of the research project, which ran from 2020 to 2023, scientists tagged 812 fish, rays and sharks with ten-year trackers to gain more insight into their movements and behavior.

Tiger sharks are ranked second by the International Shark Attack File for the number of unprovoked attacks on humans, behind white sharks. Last year a Russian man died after being mauled by a tiger shark at one of Egypt's Red Sea resorts.

Although echidnas are not considered endangered, one specific type of animal is being considered: Attenborough's long-beaked echidna. critically endangered on the Red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. One was captured on camera Last year for the first time in decades.

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