Alligators, occupying estuarine and fresh waters, and sharks, occupying saltier waters, don't often clash in nature. But for those rare times when they do, it's worth wondering: which would emerge victorious? Now, scientists finally have a definitive answer: it's the gators.

When the battles between these two apex predators do happen, it's typically in estuarine waters where just the right mix of fresh and salt water make encounters possible. Though anecdotal reports of clashes do exist, documented cases are rare — that is, until now. Kansas State University researcher James Nifong decided to finally get to the bottom of the matter, and has compiled the most comprehensive report of alligator/shark encounters to date, according to a press release.

Most of the time, it doesn't end well for the sharks.

"In the article, we documented alligators consuming three new species of sharks and one species of stingray," explained Nifong. "Before this, there have only been a few observations from an island off the Georgia coast, but the new findings document the occurrence of these interactions from the Atlantic coast of Georgia around the Florida peninsula to the Gulf Coast and Florida Panhandle."

He added: "The findings bring into question how important sharks and rays are to the alligator diet as well as the fatality of some juvenile sharks when we think about population management of endangered species."

Of course, this doesn't mean that sharks never flip the script. Nifong also noted several news reports from the 1800s that describe encounters between these creatures that ended differently, with sharks emerging with full stomachs. Really, it probably depends on the venue. Sharks that are more likely to wander into estuarine waters are smaller varieties or juveniles. If an alligator got washed out to sea and encountered an adult great white, however, there's little doubt that the shark would prevail.

There are also known crocodile fossils from the dinosaur era that show evidence of predation by ancient sharks, so the outcome of these clashes all depends on time and place, and the struggle goes back as long as these creatures have existed together.

The research was published in the journal Southeastern Naturalist.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Alligators found hunting and feasting on sharks
This unexpected clash of alligators and sharks demonstrates which animal really sits atop the estuarine food chain.