It’s a common misconception that the great white shark is the king of the ocean. While the great white is a fierce adversary, to be sure, even the ocean’s most infamous shark steers clear of the true apex predator of the sea: the killer whale.
Last week, marine educator and photographer Vanessa Prigollini witnessed the power and determination of the killer whale firsthand when a 20-foot male named Emyr intentionally beached himself in pursuit of a 6.5-foot sea lion.
“I was feeling a wide roller coaster of emotions,” Prigollini told Newsweek. “I was impressed, stunned, amazed, excited, happy, nervous, and grateful for being able to witness such a unique event from nature which is not easy to see.”
“Part of you wants the sea lion to get away, but part of you understands it’s nature, and orcas are the apex predators of the ocean.”
Dedicated to her craft, Prigollini spent a whopping nine hours on the beach, watching the killer whales and closely studying their movements. As she watched, five orcas emerged from the water, surveying the shore where a sea lion colony basked, their pups playing in the waves.
Killer whales don’t often venture as close to shore as Emyr, but Prigollini explained that the local orcas in Argentina have developed the unique hunting technique to take advantage of the plentiful sea lion population.
Is Anything Off the Menu for Killer Whales?
So, if a killer whale is willing to intentionally beach itself to ensure a successful hunt, is there anything it won’t try to eat? Well, yes! There’s actually a long list of meals off the menu for killer whales (including humans). This is because orcas are actually fairly picky eaters.
A shark attack, for example, occurs as a result of mistaken identity. When seeing a human in the water, a shark might mistake them for a marine mammal and take a bite. Typically, however, they then realize the taste is all wrong and leave in search of the correct food.
Killer whales, on the other hand, don’t have the same “what is this?” reaction as sharks. Like sharks, orcas are opportunistic feeders. The difference, though, is that if they don’t recognize an animal as their targeted prey, they won’t bother trying it.
That said, an orca’s list of menu options is far from short. The apex predator has been known to eat all sorts of marine mammals, from seals to sea lions to porpoises to dolphins. They’ll even go after sharks and other whales when the mood strikes.
Port and Starboard, for instance, have gained quite the reputation among their fellow sea-dwelling predators. Back in March, the notorious killer whale duo massacred at least 17 broadnose sevengill sharks in one day off the coast of South Africa.
Compared to sharks, sea lions are an easy snack, even if it means the killer whale must temporarily beach itself to do it.