The battle between mammal and fish occurred on Boxing Day in normally placid waters off the coast of New Zealand. Witnesses watched as the pod of orcas began to stalk the sharks through the sea. When the orcas finally launched their attack, some sharks were forced to take drastic measures for survival.
One shark reports the Daily Mail
, was so desperate to escape the orcas that it beached itself only to face another critter, an observer's dog. Peter Robertson, owner of the dog named Flea, described how his canine became excited by the ruckus at sea. When the shark beached itself, Flea approached the fish and barked at it. Peterson said,"it would appear the whales were fighting the sharks ... the sharks were coming ashore because they didn't want to be in the water."
Witnesses believe that the number of orcas and shark were equal, six apiece, but orcas are formidable predators who use their brains as well as their brawn to hunt. Feasting on sharks is not uncommon for orcas but it is rarely seen so close to shore.
Back in Oct. 1997, an orca and great white shark interaction
captured on video near California's Farallon Islands, rocked marine biologists back on their heels. Never before had two apex predators been observed going head-to-head. In fact, it was believed that an orca and a great white would simply avoid one another in the ocean, but not this time.
The entire event was captured on video by a group of tourists on a whale watching expedition enjoying the antics of two orcas playing close by. The two mammals, a larger and much smaller orca are not often seen near the islands and observers believed the pair to be a mother and her calf. Sharks on the other hand, are frequent visitors to the area, particularly in October where attracted by seals, the Islands become one of the largest congregations of great white in the world.
It was no surprise then that an observer spotted a 10-foot great white swimming alongside the boat before it headed off abruptly. The larger of the orcas dived and reappeared holding the great white upside down in its mouth, clinging onto the shark for a full 15 minutes. The shark neither resisted nor fought back.
It was initially thought that the orca had been protecting her calf but on closer examination, biologists determined that the calf was named CA2, a documented adult female; her companion was CA6, also an adult female. "Both belong to the L.A. Pod," said the National Wildlife Federation Organization
and are a "cetacean gang so strange a better moniker might be the Odd Pod."
Considering what they know about this pod, biologists think that the orca was simply hunting, with specific skills learned from fellow L.A. Pod orcas. They suggest that the killer whale probably rammed the shark first to stun it before flipping it upside down and forcing the great white to enter a state called "tonic immobility." This forced state of paralyzation, common to many species of shark, can last for up to 15 minutes, long enough for the orca to suffocate the great white. The 10-foot great white never stood a chance, it was intelligence that won this battle.
The aftermath of the orca's attack was even stranger. Peter Pyle, a resident biologist, discovered that all remaining sharks of the Farallones had completely vanished and in the midst of shark season too. Upon further research by scientists, indications were that sharks immensely disliked the smell one of their own dying. So much so, that the sharks fled the Islands for the remainder of the year. By tracking down and synthesizing the smell of shark death, they tested the odor on lemon sharks; their reaction to it was so violent, it roused the fish out of tonic immobility and into fleeing mode.
Whether the scent of another shark's death sends the fish into mass fleeing panic remains to be seen, but while scientists believe there is more to it, it could explain why the shark at the Blue Cliffs chose a beaching rather than an eating. The incredible feeding frenzy was captured on film by David Evans and other witnesses who appeared stunned by the aggression of the orcas. Although the species of shark involved has yet to be identified, all of them were notably smaller than the hunting orcas.