By Pete Thomas
Not a lot is known about the feeding habits of offshore killer whales, but sevengill sharks can now be added to their list of known prey items.
Slater Moore, a photographer for Monterey Bay Whale Watch, captured drone footage Tuesday showing the mysterious orcas passing around a live sevengill. The extraordinary clip reveals an adult killer whale clutching the shark in its jaws. The mammal eventually releases its grip so other orcas can pick up the shark.
This appears to have been a teaching experience for very young calves, which also can be seen in the footage.
“It’s a very rare sighting, and a very unique observation,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, director of the California killer whale project, adding that she was unsure if drone footage showing shark predation by offshore orcas had previously existed.
Stated Moore on Facebook:“So lucky to get to see this!”
Offshore killer whales, first identified in 1988, are known to prey on sleeper sharks, opah, tuna, and other pelagic fishes. This might be the first documentation of the mammals preying on a sevengill shark.
Offshore killer whales are more common off British Columbia, Canada, but even sightings in that region are rare. The mammals were first documented off California in 1992, in Monterey Bay.
Interestingly, offshore killer whales were spotted in Monterey Bay last Dec. 13, one year to the day before Tuesday’s sighting.