Wildlife photography requires a keen eye, an intimate knowledge of your equipment, and – sometimes – a healthy dose of good fortunate. Florida photographer Doc Jon recently snapped a few images of an osprey soaring above Madiera Beach only to realise when reviewing his photos at a later stage that the raptor was clutching a shark in its talons. The shark meanwhile – in a scene that resembled some kind of weird avian-piscine matryoshka doll – had its jaws firmly clasped around a fish.

Image © Doc Jon
Image © Doc Jon

Jon uploaded the incredible images to his Facebook page where they quickly gained a lot of interest. “When I got home and opened [the photos], my first thought was 'Woah! That’s a shark in his talons!'" Jon told WFLA about his reaction to realising what he had captured. "But then I saw the fish and I literally laughed and said, 'No way!' I couldn't believe it."

The waters around Florida are home to a number of shark species and it’s unclear from the photo evidence exactly which one this osprey plucked out of the Floridian fish buffet. It appears to be a juvenile, though, which can make the identification process a bit tricky.

Ospreys (also known as seahawks) are large, fish-eating raptors in the hawk family. They are unique among North American hawks in that fish make up 99 percent of their diet, so glimpsing one preying on a shark – although rare – is not entirely surprising. These aerial acrobats are sometimes seen plunging from heights of 40 metres (130ft) in pursuit of a meal, which they cling onto using reversible outer toes and spines behind their talons. These adaptations help the birds maintain grip while carrying their prey in flight.

Image © Doc Jon
Image © Doc Jon

It's a common misconception that raptors cannot release their talons from their prey and, while ospreys are capable of hanging on to some impressively large quarry, they do occasionally drop a meal (usually resulting in very confusing reports about fish raining from the heavens). This catch, however, looks small enough to be carried off with ease, even with the additional weight of the shark’s prey.

While it may seem like something of a predatory role-reversal, birds do sometimes prey on sharks. Few smaller fish (including sharks) are safe from the stabbing talons (and beaks) of birds of prey. Blue Herons, for example, are masterful hunters and will readily snaffle up sharks if they are available, using their spear-like bills to skewer the unsuspecting fish. And then there's that video of a flock of pelicans squabbling over a shark meal (although it remains unclear how the birds bagged the fish in the first place).

Perhaps even more bizarre is just how many birds have been eaten by sharks. While sea-faring birds sometimes fall victim to marine predators, back in 2012, ecologists studying the diets of tiger sharks in the Gulf of Mexico were surprised to discover that everything from woodpeckers to swallows were present in the stomach contents of the local shark population. Sadly, humans are probably to blame. Migratory birds sometimes travel thousands of miles en route to their overwintering destinations and back again, and to help them find their way they use moonlight and starlight to calibrate their internal compasses. The illuminated oil-drilling platforms that pepper the gulf may be disorientating the birds leading them to eventually plummet into the ocean out of exhaustion, where tiger sharks readily gobble them up.

Top Header Image: birdsaspoetry.com/Flickr