Video: Orcas Hunt Great White Sharks in South Africa

Question: What does a marine apex predator that hunts in packs, weighs 3,000 kilos, and bites with bone-snapping force eat?

Answer: Anything it wants, up to and including great white sharks.

Scientists have long suspected that orcas preyed on great white sharks, but no one has directly observed the behavior — until now.

A new paper published in the journal Ecology describes orcas off the coast of South Africa targeting great whites.

The submission includes stunning drone and helicopter footage of orcas stalking, killing, and eating a great white shark.

“This behavior has never been witnessed in detail before, and certainly never from the air,” said lead author Alison Towner, a senior shark scientist at Marine Dynamics Academy in Gansbaai, South Africa.

 

A short excerpt from the footage aired on the Discovery Channel in 2022, but with the the paper’s release comes another three minutes of the encounter. It’s quite a watch.

In the video, the orca pod stalks and kills one great white shark. Researchers believe the same pod may have killed as many as three other sharks near Mossel Bay, South Africa in the same hunt.

The shark in question attempted to avoid its fate by tightly circling one of the orcas, keeping it in sight at all times. But this strategy is less effective against social hunters like orcas.

Data from the tourist-driven cage-diving industry indicates that other great whites fled the area immediately after the predation occurred.

a graph showing great white sharks fled after predation occurred overlayed over a photo of orcas hunting sharks

Image: Allison Towner

 

Far-reaching impact

Adult orcas will teach each other new hunting techniques, a phenomenon known as cultural transmission.

“Killer whales are highly intelligent and social animals. Their group hunting methods make them incredibly effective predators,” said marine mammalogist Simon Elwen of Stellenbosch University.

The impact on the great white shark population off the coast of South Africa could be significant. As of 2016, the breeding population of South African great white sharks was estimated at between 300 and 500 individuals.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).