Kids gasp in awe as sea lions devour thresher sharks in frenzied attack


Sea lion brings up a thresher shark tail-first. Photo: Courtesy of Dale Frink/Davey’s Locker Whale Watching

A group of children enjoying a Saturday outing off Newport Beach, California, discovered that sharks do not always rule their domain, and sea lions can be pretty nasty predators.

The kids were whale watching aboard the Ocean Explorer out of Davey's Locker when all of a sudden the ocean became a froth in which sea lions had brought up thresher sharks and were devouring them in a wild spectacle.


Sea lion brings a thresher shark to the surface. Photo: Dale Frink/Davey’s Locker Whale Watching

It's a phenomenon that sometimes occurs — it was chronicled last October in the same general area — but is rarely witnessed.

The children and adults on the boat were astonished to discover that the cute sea lions they had been admiring had suddenly become savage hunters.


Kids on the boat “were completely transfixed” by the sight of sea lions feeding on thresher sharks. Photo: Courtesy of Dale Frink/Davey’s Locker Whale Watching

“They were completely transfixed,” said Dale Frink, the boat's photographer. “It was a lot of action and energy, perfect for a group of youngsters. Parents' jaws were dropping.”

California sea lions, as most people know, are among the favorite prey items for adult great white sharks.

But thresher sharks, although they can grow to about 15 feet, are fairly slender and boast small mouths. Their primary weapons, when hunting, are long, scythe-like tails, used to stun schooling bait fish.


Sea lion makes what appears to be an easy meal out of a thresher shark. Photo: Courtesy of Dale Frink/Davey’s Locker Whale Watching

The Orange County coastal area, including Newport Beach and Dana Point, is a prime feeding area for young thresher sharks, and when they school together sea lions will sometimes swoop in, as if dining at a buffet.

Frink said the spectacle lasted about 15 minutes. “Every time the shark was tossed you would hear this gasp come up,” he said.

There was a brief matinee on the next trip, involving smaller thresher sharks.

Frink also has seen sea lions feeding on leopard sharks and said they have been known to chase larger sharks, including juvenile great whites and small makos.

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