Researchers recently released footage of a previously unseen phenomenon—killer whales pursuing great white sharks. The video was released this week alongside a scientific paper published in the journal Ecology. The footage was captured via drone and helicopter off the coast of South Africa in May 2022. It shows a pod of killer whales hunting at least two great white sharks over a period of 71 minutes.
“This behavior has never been witnessed in detail before, and certainly never from the air,” said lead author Alison Towner in a press release. See the epic video for yourself below.
The footage was captured near Mossel Bay, which had long been a hotspot for great white shark sightings—until recently. This summer, scientists released a study that reported that two orcas in the area had hunted and killed at least 8 great white sharks over a span of several years. As a result, great whites have largely abandoned the area.
The recently-released video shows the killer whales’ strategy for taking down great whites. The orcas slowly approached the sharks. The great whites did not flee and instead circled while keeping an eye on the oversized predators—which is actually a common strategy that seals and tortoises use to avoid sharks. But the circling didn’t work well, largely because orcas are known to hunt in groups. In at least one instance, the big marine mammals swarmed and killed a great white with shocking ease.
“Killer whales are highly intelligent and social animals,” said study co-author Dr. Simon Elwen. “Their group hunting methods make them incredibly effective predators.”
The researchers confirmed that one of the orcas in the pod was a known shark killer dubbed “Starboard.” It was filmed chomping what appears to be a great white shark’s liver—which is especially rich in fats and nutrients—at the surface of the ocean.
According to Live Science, orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family. They are one of the most widely distributed mammals on the planet and are found in every ocean across the globe. The biggest orca on record was 32 feet long and weighed approximately 22,000 pounds. They almost never attack humans but are clearly lethal apex predators when it comes to other marine life.