World's first aerial footage of killer whales hunting and killing great white sharks is nature at its scariest
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Brutal footage showing killer whales hunting great white sharks in South Africa has left viewers stunned.
On 16 May 2022, an hour-long killing spree by a pod of orcas was captured from above on Mossel Bay.
While marine biologists have long known that killer whales can attack great whites, it had never been caught on camera like this before.
The footage was submitted as part of a paper published in The Ecological Society of America's journal Ecology in October, offering a new insight into the clashes between the two major marine predators.
"This behaviour 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.
Only two killer whales in South Africa have been previously linked to hunting great whites, and only one of those was observed in the footage, along with four other killer whales. As such, the authors believe that the behaviour may be spreading.
The study also gives new insights into sharks' attempts to evade capture by orcas.
On two occasions, orcas approached sharks closely and slowly, and rather than fleeing, the shark stayed close to the orca, keeping it in view – a common strategy that seals and turtles use to evade sharks.
So, perhaps having been put in the unusual position of being hunted, sharks copy the behaviour of those they hunt?
However, orcas are social and hunt in groups, and so researchers believe it might not be as effective for sharks to use in this situation.
"Killer whales are highly intelligent and social animals. Their group hunting methods make them incredibly effective predators," said marine mammal specialist and study co-author Dr Simon Elwen, Director of Sea Search and a research associate at Stellenbosch University.
The study confirmed that one infamous killer whale - locally known as Starboard - was part of the pod and ate what was suspected to be a large piece of shark liver at the ocean surface. The footage also revealed how another killer whale bit into a white shark at the region of the liver.
"I first saw Starboard in 2015 when he and his close-associated Port were linked to killing seven gill sharks in False Bay," said David Hurwitz, a boat-based whale-watching operator from Simon's Town Boat Company.
"We saw them kill a bronze whaler [copper shark] in 2019 – but this new observation is really something else."
The new study also analysed drone and cage dive boat survey data before and after these predation events.
White sharks were seen on every survey day for the weeks prior to the predation event and multiple sharks were seen on the day of the predations.
However, only a single white shark was seen in the 45 days after the predations, confirming a flight response by sharks.