Orcas versus great white shark: no contest

orca versus great white shark
Photo courtesy of Adventure Bay Charters, via ABC News

People have often wondered who would win in a clash of top ocean predators: the killer whale or great white shark.

An answer was provided in 1997 west of San Francisco, when the clear winner was an adult female killer whale, albeit in a fight with a juvenile white shark.

But this past week off South Australia, it was the killer whales, or orcas, who prevailed again, against an adult white shark popular among cage divers, in what Captain Matt Waller described as "the title fight of all title fights."

In the San Francisco battle, the orca seemed to dispatch the shark easily, while her calf watched.

great white shark
Generic great white shark image via Wikipedia

In the Australia incident, a family group of orcas engaged in a fairly lengthy battle that was witnessed mostly from afar, as a blur from the boat, as nobody was in the water, and no compelling footage was captured.

However, witnesses aboard the Shark Warrior watched in awe as, at one point, orcas launched out of the water and body slammed the shark.

"If that's what we're seeing on the surface, then I can only imagine That under the surface you had other [orcas] that were working to try to keep this shark up [near the surface]," Waller told ABC News Australia.

killer whales
Photo courtesy of Adventure Bay Charters

Such fights between apex predators are extremely rare, and orca sightings near the shark-diving area in South Australia occur infrequently, perhaps once or twice per year.

The Shark Warrior is run through Adventure Bay Charters, which stated on its blog that the orcas were spotted in the distance as passengers, who had all seen one shark from inside the cage, were taking a break aboard the boat.

Not good news from a diving standpoint. Orcas, while they rarely tangle with white sharks, tend to scatter them.

Then came the splashing, 850 yards off the stern of the Shark Warrior. The fight was on.

"It's like the title fight of all title fights," Waller told ABC. "People were crying. People were laughing. People were swearing. They were at the height of emotion. It was definitely the highlight of my career. Not much is probably going to top this."

Catherine Kemper, a South Australian researcher, said she had never heard of orcas attacking white sharks in the region.

According to the Adventure Bay Charters blog, the Shark Warrior crew counted six orcas, including the calves. Amid the turmoil was a single shark fin.

Soon passengers could hear rhythmic orca vocalizations, perhaps coordinating the assault.

"It appears as though every time the fin of the shark breaks the surface one of the killers launches itself halfway out of the water and lands on top of it," reads a description in the blog. "… Suddenly the shark breaks away across the surface. It looks like the killers have scared it away. Unexpectedly the shark fin doubles back straight toward the killers again."

That would be the shark's last brave move.

The orcas surrounded the shark and utilized methodical teamwork to finish the job.

Then, suddenly, a strange silence prevailed, as the passengers tried to grasp what they had just witnessed.

"They would never look at Discovery Channel or National Geographic the same again," concludes the blog post. "Unlikely to witness such an event again in their lifetime or possibly, their children's lifetime. Every person on the boat on that day will remember for sure when they witnessed the ultimate clash of the titans."

It’s believed that the shark was one of two males–Brutus or Kuma–popular among shark divers.

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