"Tiger Shark" by Albert Kok / CC BY-SA 4.0

Why So Many Sharks Have Bird Feathers in Their Bellies

May 21, 2019

By Ed Young

Marcus Drymon wasn’t expecting a baby shark to barf up a ball of feathers onto his boat.

The shark’s presence wasn’t the weird bit: Drymon and his team of fisheries ecologists regularly assess fish populations along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama, and every year, they’ll catch, weigh, tag, and release thousands of sharks. In 2010, they were doing just that for the meter-long tiger shark when it coughed up the feathers. “Being an ecologist, I scooped them up and took them back to the lab,” Drymon says.

He passed the feathers to Kevin Feldheim, a molecular biologist at the Field Museum, who analyzed the DNA within them to work out what species they belonged to. The answer: a brown thrasher, a thrush-like songbird that lives in forests. What on Earth was it doing in the belly of an oceanic apex predator?

“I had expected a laughing gull or a brown pelican,” Drymon says. “The brown thrasher was the last bird I would have expected.”

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