Orcas, more commonly known as Killer Whales, are the largest species of Dolphin.
Although they look like they are friendly creatures by their black and white coloring, don’t be fooled into thinking that the Great White Shark is the king of the ocean, as Killer Whales can certainly hold their own.
This begs the question; are they friendly to other species of fish, or do they have zero discrimination and Feast on anything they can get their fins on? Let’s take a deep dive into Killer Whales.
Facts About The Killer Whale
Killer whales are a type of mammal that can live up to 80 years and are typically around 32 feet in size. Weighing up to 6 tons they are nearly the size of a school bus making them one of the largest mammals.
This means that they are on top of the food chain, at least in terms of animals that live in the ocean.
Their image is an interesting one, and when compared to other Apex predators of the ocean, such as sharks who are given bad press in films such as yours, the views on killer whales have shifted from dangerous animals to intelligent and interesting creatures.
They even have leading roles in children’s films such as Free Willy and are even the main attraction at submarine parks as they can learn acrobatic tricks.
Yet, if you spot a wild killer whale, then caution should be taken in their facility and you should not approach them as they may attack a human if they feel threatened or cornered.
Hunting And Diet
Killer whales prefer cold and coastal Waters, although they are often spotted all over the place as close to the equator and also not far from the polar caps.
Because they are carnivores, they live on a wide variety of fish, and will typically chow down on penguins, and other marine animals such as sea lions, seals, squids, and seabirds (if they get too close to the water). They will even hunt other whales.
They like to hunt in pods, which are family groups of around 40 individuals. They have a mixture of resident killer whales that are native to the area, but also nomadic killer whales will join and be part of the pod.
However, resident whales tend to hunt for different things compared to transient whales
Resident whales will stick to fish, whereas transient ones target marine mammals, with both sets using wolf-like techniques to hunt their prey.
They are referred to as an apex predator by marine biologists which means that they can hunt and search for food without having to worry about being hunted themselves.
Apex Predators would include the lion in the plains of Africa, the honey badger found in southwest Asia and India, and also humans.
Killer whales are equipped with echolocation, which essentially helps them search out food that isn’t visible to the naked eye.
This is particularly useful in low-light environments, especially in deep waters where visibility becomes difficult or the nighttime when it is difficult to see that far in front.
Do Killer Whales Hunt Sharks?
Based on the information above, it looks clear that killer whales do not shy away from anything and will hunt whatever they can find.
This also seems to be the case for sharks as marine biologists are now starting to discover the dead bodies of sharks washing up on the shores with organs missing, such as their hearts and liver.
In fact, in 2017, five great white sharks washed ashore in South Africa in a period of four months where they discovered that the organs were missing. The killers were identified as a pair of male killer whales.
In fact, research suggests that killer whales are overtaking great whites as the top predator in the Gansbaai, a region off the coast of South Africa that is around 75 miles east of Cape Town.
Researchers normally log around 7 sightings of great white per day, which plummeted dramatically to just over 1 sighting per day for the next 6 months.
Whilst the average remained under 2 sightings per day during 2018 and 2019.
Whilst this might be good news for killer whales as they become the dominant species, this change in the hierarchy is upsetting the entire ecosystem, as great Whites are unable to hunt for smaller Predators which will multiply and can become unchecked.
The way they hunt sharks is what is known as a flanking method, where they will swim beneath it, forcing it to swim toward the ocean surface to reduce the chances of its escape.
They will then attempt to ram the shark or strike it with their tail, which causes the shark to flip upside-down, paralyzing the shark and mobilizing them, which makes them defenseless.
Why Do Killer Whales Hunt Sharks?
So why do killer whales hunt sharks and why is the animosity between these two impressive Apex predators?
As we think of Apex predators, we often gravitate straight towards sharks, with popular shows and an entire week dedicated to them with Shark Week.
It all comes down to what a killer whale can find and how much weaker prey are in the surrounding area.
If a great white shark has stood down on all of the local marine mammals and there’s nothing for the killer whale to hunt, the next best thing is to hunt whatever is eating all of the food.
This is why they will often attack sharks, as there is likely no fish, seabirds, or even whales in the area that they can hunt to survive. So it’s not a question of being personal, it’s merely a question of circumstantial survival.
Killer whales have an interesting history and have gone from being one of the most feared animals of the ocean to a marketable mammal that is considered intelligent, interesting, and even cute to some people.
Yet underneath this image, there is a menacing predator that will attack anything for its survival.