Killer whales have a good reputation with humans as being large and friendly sea mammals, and they’ve been known to get along well with other sea life as well. On the other hand, they've also had a growing reputation for being quite unforgiving to other sea life.
According to a new study published in PLOS ONE, killer whales have been observed killing and eating two different species that they’re rarely ever seen taking down, including a sevengill shark and a rare beaked whale.
In the event concerning the sevengill shark, footage was actually recorded from up above using a drone with an onboard camera. The beaked whale, on the other hand, was observed being hunted in person by researchers that were studying killer whales in the region.
Both are uniquely rare instances, because killer whales usually feast on smaller creatures like sea birds, squid, octopuses, and sea turtles among other things.
Smaller sharks are also known to be on their diet list, but the sevengill shark that was observed as the prey in this instance is rarely hunted by orcas because they’re big and powerful, and because beaked sharks are so rare in themselves, seeing an orca hunt one down probably isn’t seen too often either.
The sevengill shark was reportedly taken down by two adult females that were trailed by two calves.
In terms of the beaked whale that scientists observed during the hunt, such behavior has only been recorded four times, and all of these instances happened in close proximity to one another between February-March, so something sounds a little wonky about it. Something else may be behind the attack.
Although scientists can speculate all they want to, there is so little evidence behind most of the speculation due to the lack of cold, hard facts that there’s really no solid explanation for why these orcas are hunting species of animals that they don’t usually go after.
More research into the ecology of the regions where the attacks took place, as well as careful orca tracking may provide some insight, but due to the rarity of these kinds of attacks, no one should hold their breath for answers.
A graphic photo below shows the carnage captured during the beaked whale incident:
Image Credit: Wellard R et al/PLOS One