Video Footage Provides First Detailed Look at Orcas Hunting Great White Sharks

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

For decades, humans have considered Great White sharks the ocean’s apex predators. However, recent studies have found that not to be the case. Instead, footage captured on a drone earlier this year shows that orcas, or killer whales, are likely the ocean’s real apex predators.

The footage, shown below, sees a pair of orcas circling the waters off the coast of South Africa. This particular region has recently seen a rapid depletion in the Great White shark population. Making strategic moves, the pair of orcas corners and kills the Great White shark, targeting its liver.

According to Forbes, the clip above is only a fraction of what was originally an hour-long pursuit which ended in one shark’s death. Experts also believe the clip possibly showed proof of cultural transmission between the orcas, more simply meaning adult to adult learning. Per the outlet, one of the orcas pursuing the shark, named Starboard, is a “well-known shark eater” and could potentially be having an impact on the hunting practices of other orcas around South Africa.

Aside from their size and razor-sharp teeth, orcas have unique hunting tactics. Like their more common cousin the bottlenose dolphin, orcas are social animals and therefore hunt in coordinated packs. Though their tactics range depending on their environment, the orcas seen pursuing the Great White shark above tend to quickly overcome a shark’s defenses when they knock it upside down.

This method, known as “tonic immobility” or animal hypnosis renders the Great White shark defenseless. In doing so, the shark becomes an easy meal for the orcas.

Great White Sharks Use Evasive Defense Maneuvers Against Orcas

There’s a reason Great White sharks have held the title of the ocean’s apex predators for so long. Namely, it’s because they are ruthless, powerful hunters, using force as much as their dangerously sharp teeth to incapacitate prey. However, per the outlet, they’re simply not up to a pursuit against an orca. And animal hypnosis, as detailed above, is certainly a disadvantage.

That said, Great Whites, unlike other ocean life, do not flee orcas when they know they’ve become the prey. Instead, a press release states that “On two occasions, orcas approached sharks closely and slowly, while the shark, instead of fleeing, stayed close to the orca, keeping it in view.”

Forbes states this tactic is interesting for two reasons. One, Great White sharks have not been known to display this kind of behavior. And second, this particular method has been observed in seals and turtles in their own evasion of Great Whites.

Even more fascinating, Great White sharks have not only been increasingly bested by the ocean’s killer whales, but they’ve also begun taking part in a flight response, a reaction more common in the shark’s prey than in the shark itself.

Research, conducted by Alison Towner, a shark scientist at Rhodes University, and her team, revealed that up for several weeks prior to the attack in the footage, Great White sharks populated the area. On the day of the actual attack, the team even spotted a handful of the massive sharks nearby. However, for a long 45 days afterward, the scientists recorded just one white shark in the area, proof that the Great Whites do in fact activate a flight response after an orca attack on a shark.