Killer Whales vs. Shark: Drone Footage Shows Rare Attack

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Killer whales in the blue Pacific Ocean way offshore from New Zealand. wildestanimal/Shutterstock

Sharks might have the most ferocious reputation in the ocean, but if an incredible encounter recently captured by a drone video shows us anything, it's that sharks are not the sea's top predator after all. That title probably belongs to killer whales.

Photographer Slater Moore shot the video (shown above) during a whale-watching trip in Monterey Bay, after recognizing hunting behavior from a group of killer whales. That astute eye awarded him with some extremely rare footage: a battle between four orcas and what appears to be a sevengill shark, reports Discover. Truth be told, the shark never stood a chance against such formidable foes, though the whales did have the advantage of teamwork.

Incredibly, the shark appears to still be alive at the beginning of the video, wiggling around inside the jaws of one of the orcas. The scene is a special one because video of killer whales attacking and consuming sharks is largely unheard of. Scientists know that killer whales hunt sharks from examining the stomach contents of dead whales that have washed ashore, but to actually witness such an attack is unusual, to say the least.

This group of killer whales is also particularly elusive; it's rare to film them so close to shore. They are members of an offshore subspecies — only just recognized as a distinct subspecies back in 1988 — that migrate long distances in the open ocean along the western coast. Their hunting habits are seldom observed.

Interestingly, of the four orcas seen in the video, two are juveniles. The fact that the whales seem to pass the shark around while it's still alive might suggest that the adults were teaching the younger whales how to hunt shark. It's a fascinating display of social behavior. It might even represent cultural transmission.

Despite the many perks of being atop the ocean food chain, killer whales do experience one significant drawback: Their diet means they ingest high levels of pollution. Sharks have been shown to exhibit mercury levels that are off the charts, for instance, due to their apex diets. The fact that killer whales have sharks on their menu likely means that their pollution levels are even higher, due to bioaccumulation.