Orcas and great white sharks are both fascinating creatures in themselves and both for different reasons.
The great white shark suits everyone’s version of what the ocean’s most fearsome predator is all about. Their terrifying dead eyes and angular snouts have haunted our nightmares ever since Jaws came out in 1975.
Meanwhile, orcas have become beloved majestic creatures. Especially in British Columbia, where we can spot Southern Resident Killer Whales and Transient orca populations in local waters.
So it might be shocking for many to hear that orcas hate great white sharks.
Why do Orcas Hate Great White Sharks So Much?
It’s an interesting question that many folks might ask themselves when they learn that Killer Whales have been known to hunt Great White Sharks. Hate is certainly a strong word and I wouldn’t necessarily use it to describe the relationship that Killer Whales have with Great White Sharks. That being said, Great White Sharks have been known to depart if they detect the presence of Killer Whales. What exactly is the relationship between Great White Sharks and Orcas – two of the ocean’s most impressive apex predators?
Great White Sharks – A History of Fright and Fascination
It’s no secret that people love shark week. Turn on the Discovery Channel and there are hours and hours of shark footage filmed from all over the world. What makes shark week so popular? It originally started as a way to entice people to the network with an animal that triggers a fear response in humans. The potential danger of sharks – though attacks are incredibly uncommon and unlikely on humans – entices viewers to observe a creature many find ‘menacing.’ Fortunately, shark week programming largely focuses on creating a better understanding of sharks and highlights the need for their conservation as well as their important role in ocean ecosystems.
When thinking of apex predators in the ocean, a Great White Shark is likely what comes to mind for many. Great White Sharks have nearly no natural predators, and they are one of the primary predators for marine mammals. There is even footage of a Great White Shark in South Africa killing a 33-foot long Humpback whale! Movies like Jaws cemented sharks in the human imagination as ferocious man-eating killers, even though fatal attacks on humans happen very rarely (typically less than 10 times a year). While Great White Sharks certainly are impressive apex predators, there is another apex predator that even they avoid. That predator is the Killer Whale.
Killer Whales and Their Interest in Great White Sharks
These days Killer Whales have a friendlier image than Great White Sharks, but they possess many qualities that make them potentially more dangerous predators. They hunt effectively in groups, communicate amongst themselves, and teach their young how to kill prey in very strategic ways. Orcas have been observed flipping sharks on their backs and holding them there for up to 15 minutes. Flipping a shark over induces a paralytic state known as tonic immobility. Once immobilized, the Killer Whales will prey on the shark’s liver which can account for a quarter of its body weight. Shark liver offers an extremely dense and nutritious source of calories for Killer Whales. For this reason, Killer Whales will target the liver of various shark species.
Great White Sharks that have been tagged by researchers have been known to leave areas when they detect the presence of Killer Whales. Great White Sharks are definitely incredible ocean predators, but just like other animals, part of their success and survival is dependent on knowing when to pack it in.”
Note: thankfully (or not) there are no known species of sharks near J-Pod’s coastal BC home.