Featured Image Credit: Slater Moore
By Alice Morris
Sharks are often stereotyped as ferocious apex predators of the sea.
But fascinating drone footage out of Monterey Bay, California shows the hunter becoming the hunted as a pod of orcas devours a sevengill shark.
Slater Moore, a photographer with Monterey Bay Whale Watch captured the footage earlier this month.
Passengers aboard the SeaWolf II were enjoying a whale watch off the coast of California when they received a call from a fisherman informing them of a killer whale pod nearby.
The boat made its way to the fisherman’s coordinates where sure enough, more than half a dozen orcas were hanging around with another pod close by. The killer whales appeared to be swarming around another animal in the water so Moore went to work, quickly launching his drone to get a closer look.
The stunning aerial footage reveals a 20-foot adult orca carrying a live sevengill shark in its mouth as an orca calf follows closely behind. The shark struggles at first before becoming motionless, at which point more killer whales join the adult and begin to pass around the shark carcass.
The extraordinary footage was soon uploaded to social media where it has received hundreds of thousands of views.
Deborah Giles, research director for the Washington-based Center for Whale Research called the footage “phenomenal,” especially since this may be the first time this specific subspecies of killer whale has been filmed with its prey off California.
Offshore killer whales are the most uncommon of the three subspecies of orcas in this area. The other two subspecies, fish-eating and mammal-eating orcas find their food closer to shore making them easier to spot.
What’s especially fascinating about the footage is that the orca can be seen carrying the shark upside down in its mouth, an intentional attempt to suffocate the shark.
“They go into something called catatonic immobility,” says Giles of the shark’s reaction. “If they are turned upside down, they just stop moving. It’s a chemical reaction that happens…and that’s what the whale’s doing. It’s pretty smart.”
Giles also says that by swimming around with the shark in its mouth and then passing the shark around from individual to individual – a behavior called prey sharing – the adult killer whale is teaching the calves proper hunting and social behaviors.
Prey sharing may even represent a form of cultural transmission, or cultural learning, through which animals in a particular population learn and pass on information.
This extraordinary social behavior is what Giles finds most fascinating about the footage and about orcas in general.
“For me, killer whales are so interesting because they’re very socially bonded and you can see that in the video. Even though the ocean is massive and they could go really far away from each other, they don’t… It’s one of the beautiful things about the drone footage that’s coming out. We’re learning more and more and, as different technologies come out, we’ll learn more about offshores.”
Read more about the awesome encounter here.