Understanding the strength and diversity of predator-prey interactions among species is essential to understand ecosystem consequences of population-level variation. Directly quantifying the predatory behaviour of wild fishes at large spatial scales (>100 m) in the open sea is fraught with difficulties. To date the only empirical approach has been to search for correlations in the abundance of predators and their putative prey. As an example we use this approach to search for predators of the keystone crown-of-thorns starfish. We show that this approach is unlikely to detect predator–prey linkages because the theoretical relationship is non-linear, resulting in multiple possible prey responses for single given predator abundance. Instead we suggest some indication of the strength and ecosystem importance of a predator–prey relationship can be gained by using the abundance of both predators and their putative prey to parameterize functional response models.