Apex predator becomes prey: Watch killer whales killing a great white shark in one-of-its-kind footage
In one of the most stunning pieces of natural history ever recorded, aerial footage shot in South Africa last year captured a pod of five orcas hunting and killing a great white shark.
In October 2022, scientists released the one-of-its-kind video as part of a study published in The Ecological Society of America's journal Ecology — confirming that the apex predator species, also known as killer whales hunt great white sharks.
"We've had all the evidence for killer whales being responsible for killing white sharks. But this is the world's first drone footage of killer whales predating on a white shark,” said lead author Alison Towner, a senior shark scientist at Marine Dynamics Academy in South Africa’s Gansbaai.
"This behaviour has never been witnessed in detail before, and certainly never from the air," the white shark biologist added.
In an hour-long pursuit in May, five orcas were observed from a helicopter chasing and circling a great white before they went in for the kill and ripped out its liver.
One of these killer whales was the infamous hunter 'Starboard' that had been previously linked to the slaughter of several other sharks — a hypothesis that was conclusively proven by the first-ever documented orca-on-shark attack.
It also illuminated previously-unknown behaviours of sharks when they are being hunted by an apex predator at such high trophic levels.
When predator becomes prey
Scientists noticed that when approached by orcas, great whites stayed instead of fleeing — a strategy used by turtles and seals to evade the marine behemoths.However, replicating the behaviour of their preys might not be as effective for a shark being predated by a killer whale as it hunts in groups."Killer whales are highly intelligent and social animals," explained Dr Simon Elwen, the director of Sea Search and study co-author. "Their group hunting methods make them incredibly effective predators."