A Surprising Great White Shark Attack

Orcas are the big, magnificent creatures that you see blasting out of the water at Sea World. But they’re more than that; they’re clever, courageous creatures that love their freedom. Unrestricted in the wild, they even have ingenious hunting methods, which they teach to their offspring. For instance, orcas in the Antarctic Ocean create waves with their tails in order to knock seals off floating blocks of ice.

In October of 1997, a great white shark was attacked by an orca at the Farallon Islands, which are located outside of San Francisco. This orca was a member of the L.A. pod, also called “the odd pod,” because it was more opportunistic, and didn’t stick to one type of food source as other pods do.

What was remarkable about this incident of predation was that the great white shark didn’t put up a struggle, and there was no blood at the scene of the crime. The orca, also known as CA2, subdued this formidable predator by inducing tonic immobility, which is a trance-like state. After colliding with it underwater, she held the dazed white shark upside down at the surface for fifteen minutes.

An orca hunting a mako shark in New Zealand.

There is a possibility that this female orca knew that holding the shark upside down would result in tonic immobility from past experience with sharks. In fact, other orcas have been known to employ the same technique of turning sharks over in order to render them easy meals.

Every fall, great whites come to the Farallon Islands to prey on the elephant seals that gather there. However, during the remainder of the feeding season, no sharks were observed at these islands, even though there was an abundance of seals. It appeared that they had become fearful of orcas. In November of 2007, an orca pod ventured close to the Farallones, and a male was observed predating on a white shark. Just like before, no blood was seen in the water, and the sharks disappeared from the area for the rest of the feeding season. Data from the satellite tag of a male white shark called Tipfin showed that he dove down to a depth 500 meters and then swam to Hawaii, located more than 2,000 miles away. To this day, the “flight of the sharks” is still a mystery.

    I believe provides a good case for why orcas should not be held captive in marine parks such as Sea World. Why would we want to deprive them of their right to pursue such innovative hunting techniques?

National Geographic did an episode on this incident, so if you are intrigued as much as I was, I suggest you watch it.