The whale carcass was methodically stripped by at least 30 great whites—but without a violent feeding frenzy that can sometimes occur, witness Alison Kock, of the Save Our Seas Shark Centre, said by email.
"It was extraordinary to see so many sharks and so little aggression," said Kock, who spent nine days at sea watching the fish scour the carcass clean.
"With such abundant food on offer, there was no need for fierce competition between them," Kock said.
Two great whites peacefully feed side by side on a whale carcass off the coast of South Africa on September 10.
"We saw up to four great whites feeding at the same time," said Save Our Seas's Kock.
Such group cooperation has been observed before in great whites, according to Peter Klimley, a marine biologist from the University of California, Davis, who did not witness the South African feeding event.
With a single bite, great whites can tell blubber (pictured, a shark chows on blubber on September 10) from undesirable fodder such as muscle, wet suit, surfboard, or kayak.
That's why South African shark feeding "provides more support for an idea I had for why people are often [bitten] by sharks, then spit out right away," UC-Davis's Klimley said: "Humans don't have that fatty layer that seals and whales have," he said.
The dead whale—which would be a safety hazard if it washed up on a populated beach—was towed to a well-known shark feeding spot so that the fish could get to work (pictured on September 10), Save Our Seas's Kock said.
"The sharks are recycling life," Kock said.
"By clearing up dead and decaying animals, they play a vital role in the balance of the ecosystem."