A Killer Whale Scared A Shark Into Fleeing To Hawaii

A Killer Whale Scared A Shark Into Fleeing To Hawaii

Movies taught us that great white sharks hunt and kill us, while orcas are delightful sea pandas who befriend children. So, what happens when the two face off?

Well, considering the orca is otherwise known as the killer whale, and it might measure twice as long as the great white and weigh three times as much, the great white shark doesn’t stand much of a shot when an orca attacks. Biologists got a look at one of these attacks in 1997, near an island off the coast of San Francisco. 

A whale grabbed a shark and dragged it for 15 minutes. The shark froze up (possibly because the whale had flipped it upside down) and suffocated. The whale ripped the shark open and then tossed the body aside, to focus on the tasty bit that it had sought and which had fallen out of the shark’s body: the liver. Two whales were here, and the smaller one dragged the shark—the larger whale didn't need to step in and could just watch. 

Before the whale struck, this area had been full of sharks. Ships came by that whole season to watch them and would often spot more than a dozen fins peeking out of the water at once. Right after the attack, these sharks all vanished. Apparently, they’d all fled—in experiments, even playing orca calls in the water sends great whites fleeing, which is why orcas purposely stay silent right before striking.

No one knew exactly where those sharks went. Three years later, however, another whale attacked a great white in almost the exact same spot, and biologists could answer where the sharks went. This time, no one actually spotted the attack, and scientists weren't clear on whether any shark died. They just noted sharks fleeing the area, then saw an orca with a chunk of shark meat in its mouth. 

In the years since the earlier attack, biologists had attached satellite tags to four sharks that sometimes lived in the area. When this whale attacked in 2000, the scientists could track how one great white (adorably named Tipfin) reacted. It immediately dove 1,500 feet. Then it swam westward. It swam all the way to Hawaii, over 2,000 miles away. 

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Top image: gailhampshire/Wiki Commons, Bernard Dupont

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