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“Such behavior has never been observed in detail before, certainly not from the air,” said marine scientist Alison Towner of Rhodes University in South Africa.
In Mossel Bay, South Africa, a drifting drone captured the typical fin of a killer whale in the blue sea. As the drone approached, its pilot identified a group of four of these mammals and decided to follow them.
Immediately, according to the Science Alert server, the pair of killer whales separated from the others and headed east towards the mouth of the local river, a known center of shark activity. Two of the remaining cetaceans were swimming close together on the surface of the ocean in opposite directions. As if all four creatures were creating space for something or someone.
Seven seconds later, a fifth killer whale emerged from the depths between the two “watches”. Her nose was pushed to the surface by a three-meter great white shark, turned belly up. With a quick flip, the killer whale flipped the shark onto its side and bit into its belly behind its pectoral fin, spilling blood into the sea. The fifth individual, with the shark firmly gripped in its jaws, plunged into the depths again in a moment, pulling the once mighty hunter down into the depths of the ocean.
Well known male
The hunter was later identified as a killer whale named Starboard, a known male in these areas with a collapsed dorsal fin. Starboard had previously been implicated in a series of washed-up shark remains found on South African beaches, four of which were missing their livers.
However, no one has yet caught Starboard in direct combat with a great white shark. However, circumstantial evidence suggests that he and another male orca named Port are the most likely killers of the local sharks. This is because these two whales often visit shark hotspots, and when they visit, the sharks leave the area for several days.
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“I first saw the Starboard in 2015 when it was linked to the death of seven gray sharks in False Bay with its close relative Port,” David Hurwitz, a whale-watching boat operator with Simon’s Town Boat Company, told Ecology magazine. “Then in 2019 we saw them kill a copperhead shark. But this new sighting is really something else entirely.”
It is known that killer whales occasionally hunt great white sharks. So far, however, only three scientific projects have dealt with these underwater battles.
The very first footage of the hunt
In addition, the footage from the drone and subsequently the images from the helicopter are the very first hunting strategy of killer whales show in more detail. Additionally, helicopter photos indicate that at least two other great white sharks were killed by orcas near Mossel Bay on the same fateful day.
Using the phone, the pilot managed to take a series of pictures and short videos of the predatory killer whales. “Due to the time and area overlap, we assume that this is the same group captured by the drone footage,” the researchers write.
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Two video sequences at 14:07 and 14:27 showed two different killer whales closely following great white sharks at a distance of less than one body length. In both clips, the sharks showed evasive behavior, trying to circle away from the killer whale, but the whale followed them. This circling technique is probably how the sharks try to escape the killer whale. They are similarly shunned by their own prey.
The helicopter pilot also photographed one of the killer whales eating what appeared to be a huge shark liver, the size of the killer whale’s head. This would confirm that the white shark’s liver is buoyant, meaning that the fatty organs could float to the surface after massively tearing the shark’s abdomen.
The sharks cleared the field
In addition, four minutes before the hunt, observers on the beach and the drone pilot reported seeing sharks fleeing the area. Some of them even swam to the shore up to a depth of two meters. Ten sharks were observed from the drone that day. For several weeks after this killing, there were almost no sightings in the area, which was subsequently confirmed by satellite data, subsequent drone reconnaissance and ship observations.
The fact that an older male Starboard has now been caught hunting white sharks with another pod suggests that this behavior may be becoming the norm among killer whales.
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If more killer whales adopt this practice, it could have a serious impact on the local population of the legendary white sharks, which are highly prized in Mossel Bay.
The original theory about the decline of the shark population off the South African coast talked about the influence of illegal hunting of these fish as well as overfishing. But the truth may be completely different.
Killer whale (Orcinus orca), also known as the killer whale, is the largest member of the dolphin family. It is a versatile predator standing at the top of the marine food chain, eating fish, turtles, birds, seals, sharks and also other cetaceans.
Name “killer whale” (Killer Whale, used mainly in English) reflects its reputation as a magnificent and feared sea predator, as already described in the Historia naturalis of the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder. Killer whales generally do not attack humans, although there have been a few recorded cases of killer whales attacking humans or small boats after mistaking them for their favorite prey. After recognizing the mistake, they always ended their attack immediately. Only in captive killer whales have there been a few cases where the animals have attacked marine aquarium staff. In 2020, however, several apparently targeted attacks by killer whales on ships in the area around the Strait of Gibraltar were recorded.