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The Predator That Makes Great White Sharks Flee in Fear (theatlantic.com)
110 points by gmishuris 34 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

I had a bad experience with a killer whale when I was returning to San Diego from Catalina Island in my rather small Columbia 22 sailboat (this was around 1977).

A killer whale jumped out of the water to the level of the top of my mast 4 times. Each time it landed horizontally right next to my boat, almost tipping the boat over with the splash/wave it created. I laid down in the bottom of the cockpit reaching up to steer my boat and I told my girlfriend to go below decks and lay on the floor to keep our weight as low in the boat as possible. At the top of the 4 jumps out of the water, I saw a black beady little eye staring down at me.

I was very relieved when it left the area.

EDIT: I bought a bigger sailboat

On one of the Planet Earth's (IIRC) they showed a seal on a floating slab of ice and the orcas would slap their tails and bump the ice to get the seal to slide off, the seal wore itself out and they eventually drug it into the depths.

They're uncanny smart hunters. I wonder if it was curious about you being food and trying a tactic like that? Or just curious in general and indifferent to whether you survived that curiosity?

edit: the below comment linked a video which then linked to a producer explaining the exact moment I was referring to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1VEwsI4SlY


they do it to humans too. they are highly intelligent, so the options are vast. so similar to humans, they could be training, teaching, playing, angry, curious, etc.

Thanks for that, they're just incredible!

and just to elaborate on that specific technique. they will often have an orca coordinate it, likely an older female. that orca spyhops to see the target prey and then signals to the other orcas when to charge the block of ice in formation. they swim fast toward the ice and then dive under right before the ice to send a wave of water over the ice. many times they will intentionally let the seal back onto the ice to be able to practice the maneuver some more. they are also wary of seal bites and prefer to tire prey out. i have even seen one instance where they don't even eat the seal in the end, which indicates they were solely teaching and/or training.

there are other techniques they use which also require high levels of communication. one of which is where they leave one orca behind who stays silent while the rest of the pod leaves the area and starts vocalizing again. (when hunting mammals, orcas stop vocalizing since mammals have good hearing and intelligence.) this relaxes the prey and makes an easy catch for the orca who stayed silently behind. once the prey is caught, the other orcas join back, and the food is shared.

i am personally of the opinion that orcas are the second most intelligent species behind humans and ahead of all other primates. there are examples of orcas interacting with dolphins, even using dolphin vocalizations. there are also examples of orcas working with humans to catch whales, where it almost seems the orcas trained the humans and not the other way around.

I race small sailboats, and there’s a group of them that actively race on Monterrey Bay. A couple of friends had a whale, rather larger that an orca, surface below them.

They’re pretty high tech boats. Carbon fiber, Kevlar, nomex sandwich. Ripped the back of the boat off from the rudder.

One of the two guys was hanging off the side of the boat at the time (sounds strange,but normal), and so he suddenly found himself lying on a whale. Thought they had capsized. He said his first coherent thought was, “that’s not water?” Then promptly realized the barnacles on the whale were cutting through his 4mm wetsuit!

The whale dove and disappeared, none the wiser apparently. They got towed in by one of the safety boats.

For anybody who hasn't seen it, here's some video of "hanging off the side of the boat" in a trapeze... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8NwT9JBQJk

Perfectly normal on faster small-to-midsize boats (usually double-handed racing dinghies). The body weight and extra leverage helps keep the boat from capsizing. Some boats have only the crew in the trapeze, others have crew and captain.

Well...since you're breaking out the examples despite my being coy for the non-sailors.

Here's a video of the boats I was talking about. Trapeze sailing is really a blast and for the technically inclined, they are great boats: https://youtu.be/njSrgwlClNE

If those kinds of things grab your attention, foiling boats are a whole other level of tech and adrenaline. Since there's so many in the audience in the Bay Area, this is going on in SF next month and should be fabulous spectating. https://sailgp.com/races/san-francisco/

I expect the catamarans would fare worse than the 505s in a meet up with a whale.

I’m not sure about how orcas work. But in Norway you can dive with them (not recommended because you disturb them) and not a single person has been attacked there in recorded history (~200 years).

It may be that it was just curious about you, but heck they might just wanted a snack as well.

those are likely fish eating orcas who specialize on a single species of fish. i wouldn't try that with mammal eating orcas.

They are fascinating creatures, and very curious. I don't tend to worry about them much around here (BC coast), because they do at least have a very good idea of where you are. As someone else mentioned, they very rarely hurt people, despite being hugely capable of doing so.

We also tend to get quite a few humpback whales here. Because they don't echolocate as orcas and dolphins do, and they're massive, I'd be more concerned about one of them accidentally taking me out.

Here's a story (with video) on a local humpback encounter. Make sure you watch right to the end for the mama. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/humpback-wha...

Wow, hats off to you and that would have been so terrifying for me if I was there. I doubt I'd would've been able to even tell anyone such as your girlfriend to go below deck. Such a great story to read.

15' jump height on a killer whale. https://www.reference.com/science/high-can-killer-whale-jump...

This Columbia 22 has a mast height over 30'. http://www.sailingtexas.com/scolumbia22103.html

I don't sail, so I have nothing to prove, but something doesn't feel quite right about this story.

Sailing stories always become a little more dramatic with each retelling. An orca 15 feet above you on a small boat would be awesome and terrifying in a way units of measure cannot express.

And also never seen before nor since.

The story is true. It was a long time ago but I remember the head being up near the top of the mast, the rest of the body would have been lower. My strongest memories are of a beady black eye looking down on me and the feeling of the boat rolling.

I believe you believe it to be.

mark_l_watson: "We're gonna need a bigger boat"

Clearly he was challenging you to a race.

Bro, you are going into the "rich people problems" compilation.

>> “Lions, for example, do not eat a lot of impala, but impala fear lions more than any other predator on the landscape except humans,”

Probably explains why lions don't eat many impala.

Orcas are one of the most amazing animals in my opinion. They are extremely intelligent and family oriented. There are some great video captures of Orcas attacking great white sharks by flipping the shark upside down which puts the shark into paralysis and then they simply kill the shark without any resistance. The whole encounter doesn't last more than a few seconds this is how precise and smart these animals are.

Many people are probably familiar with some documentaries where we can see Orcas hunt in groups to create artificial waves in order to wipe seals off the ice plates in the Arctic.

I personally was lucky to see Orcas patrol the coastline in Argentina where Orcas come extremely close to the shore and beach themselves in order to catch one of the many sea lions which relax there in false sense of security. Once they get the sea lion they wait for the next wave to help them back into the water. It's just amazing and one of the best spots on earth to witness something truly remarkable. The spot is very popular for whales to come and mate/give birth too so it's well worth to go there for a short break!

If anyone ever visits Argentina make sure to stop by "Valdes Peninsula" and get a car rental for 1 or 2 days so you can explore the peninsula yourself and with a bit of luck spot some Orcas!

regarding their familial bonds, they are one of three mammals to undergo menopause, the other two being humans and pilot whales. since orca pods are matriarchal, this further indicates strong bonds and the fact that the older female orcas retire from reproduction duties to share that with the younger females but maintain their leadership roles rather than just dying.

Orcas eating just the sharks liver is interesting, they have been known to eat only the tongue of whales, leaving the rest of the carcass. I'm guessing for similar reasons, tongue being tasty and highly nutritious to them.

This known behavior was used by whalers who had a pact with a group of orca in Eden, South Wales. In exchange for helping the whalers hunt baleen whales, the whalers would leave the tongue of the whale to the orcas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_whales_of_Eden,_New_Sou...

I wonder if lifeboats couldn't carry a little device that sounds (or smells) like a killer whale. Maybe sharks are never really that much of a problem.

There has been a number of experiments that tried to isolate chemicals produced by the decaying shark flesh to repel sharks. The theory goes that sharks will avoid the smell of dead sharks, so a few groups I've tried to isolate those compounds to create a shark repellent. Not sure if any of them were fully successful.

In the case of the Farallon Islands it might be that once Great Whites can smell that the orcas have eaten one of their own they know it's time to escape.

I've seen at least one documentary where smaller sharks disperse when they hear the calls of orcas. Seems like it could at least be somewhat effective in areas where orcas regularly prey on sharks.

>Maybe sharks are never really that much of a problem.

Pretty sure that is the case.

>According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), between 1958 and 2016 there were 2,785 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks around the world, of which 439 were fatal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_attack

This article mentions a wetsuit with a visual orca belly print having some promise: https://www.nature.com/news/south-african-scientists-trial-h...

The sound would guarantee atracting any killer whale in km around, so...

Could be useful for surfers as well!

That's amazing that the Orcas have evolved to know how to precisely extract and consume just the liver of (at least) one specific species in the ocean that they probably don't consume often

It's probably a learned (and taught) behavior, not an evolved instinctive one. Orcas exhibit complex behaviors that vary from population to population, much like human cultures: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/understanding-...

What a wonderful and sad article.

What's also amazing to me is that they've learned that they can turn the sharks upside down to induce tonic immobility and make it easier (and less dangerous) to eat them.

Make sure to read the last sentence. I did not expect that.

I felt "violated", like a high-quality rick-rolling.

Someone's going to read that in the archives in 10 years and they'll either be scratching their heads wondering what it is - or singing along.

I’m sure 2030’s kids will watch dad memes or something to get educated on internet history.

The Final Sentence Will SHOCK You

Great, now my whole day is going to be spent trying to get that out of my head...

I had to Google-search it. (My kids are long grown.)

I'm sorry. My first encounter with this was a few months ago when a friend mentioned on FaceSpace.

It's been stuck in my head intermittently ever since.

The obvious question is, do white sharks of similar size flee from Orcas or ones of smaller size? Otherwise, there's nothing surprising here. There's examples of Elephants fleeing from large prides of Lions, Lions fleeing from large packs of hyenas, etc. Similarly a small solitary Orca will likely flee from a group or a single, much larger, white shark.

"One of the whales rammed and killed the shark, and the duo proceeded to eat its liver" - is it hard to get a nice Chianti near the Farallon Islands?

Damn that was a sneaky way to get baby shark stuck in my head.

oh no. not on here also.....

Clickbait title. Actual title should be: [Orcas] Can Make Great White Sharks Flee in Fear

Seems innocuous to me. It doesn't give false impressions in the way so many article titles do these days, just a hook for finding out what the predator is.

> just a hook for finding out what the predator is

That's the problem - click baiting and hiding information.

Headlines don't need to be this expressive to avoid being clickbait.

It gives the impression that something new has been discovered. So in this case is a clickbait, you have to click and find out something that is known, maybe not well known but I wouldn't say a secret. I personally knew about Orcas attacking sharks.

I think you filled in the blanks with a 'new discovery', when your brain could have simply assumed that the title would be "A discovery of a new animal that scares even the Great White Shark!" if there was a new discovery.

I think it is click-bait in the literal sense, but not in the negative connotation that click-bait is used today.

The question the title raises is answered in the first paragraph, which consists of two sentences.

I really wish we could get past this phase of referring to every title that tries to gather interest by using a little bit of mystery as clickbait in a pejorative way. There's a middle ground between writing being manipulative and misleading and writing being fact based and dry.

I do not. Calling bullshit out is exactly what I want to see. There's like 20 links on one page of HN for me, I don't need "a little bit of mystery" when I want to scan what I may be interested in

EDIT: It's 30 links...

What about this title wouldn't give you the information you needed to decide if this is something you may be interested in?

I already know that killer whales attack great white sharks. I'm only interested in reading the article if it's about some other predator, but they deliberately omit the identity from the title to force me to click to find out. That is clickbait.

I just want to be able to browse a news aggregating site and have a rough idea of what the article is about. So why have me click on the article only to find out "oh, it's about interactions between great whites and orcas" when you can just put that information in the title.

Sure, if I'm clicking on anything fish-related anyway that may not be a problem. But the title as it is phrased now clearly leaves out a key bit of information, namely who this predator is. That's disingenuous and the reason why I support calling it out as clickbait (i.e. "click on this link just to find out what it is actually about!")

>There's like 20 links on one page of HN for me, I don't need "a little bit of mystery" when I want to scan what I may be interested in

Right, because your life is so busy with important things like "scanning HN" that you can't spare 15 seconds finding out what "the predator" is by clicking the link.

>I don't need "a little bit of mystery"

The site doesn't exist to cater to your specific desires.

Have you considered that the way the title is written can act as another channel for information about the article?

Is the informational content the only reason to read something here? I've read plenty of entertaining things here that I have no utilitatlrion use of the information (if there exists one) afterwards.

Do I really care that great white sharks are scared of orcas? Will that likely ever be useful to me beyond an anecdote in conversation? No, likely on both counts. But I enjoyed it, and in a way I likely wouldn't have had it been a dry listing of events.

Could the title have been "a recounting of select cases of great white shark and orca interactions"? Yes. But while that would have accurately described the content, it would not have accurately described the article, which is presented in the specicifc style the author chose.

Asking for all artistic liberty to be removed from titles is like asking for some machine learning algorithm to succinctly distill factual information as a title. That isn't always making things clearer, often it's just reducing the content of one channel of information in order to increase the content of another. Sometimes that can be useful but since each channel excels at communicating a different thing (facts vs emotion and tone), I think there is a decrease in how useful adding more of one typeof information is when there's little present of the other. I think this is a net loss in utility.

I also appreciate HN for the interesting things I find out about the world that I would've never otherwise found out. I also not only read it for the informational content but can appreciate good writing.

And yes, of course there should be artistic liberty in choosing an interesting title. But this title I think is just disingenuous. There's nothing lost if you put the key information you clearly left out in the title. It is clearly only worded this way so people click on it to find out who this mysterious predator is. That's why it's called clickbait (kind of funny actually, considering it's a story about marine life... but I digress)

Some people on this site will complain or ask for a TL;DR if the content isn't written like AWS documentation. Is normal.

I was expecting the predator to be humans.

Yes, and the headline writer knows this. If the title was "Orcas Make Great White Sharks Flee in Fear", most of us would have nodded and moved on. To be fair, that was an interesting article, clickbait title notwithstanding.

Orcas Sometimes Avoid Great White Sharks.

is this a joke? the article and nature says the opposite. it is great whites who avoid orcas.

I transposed the species by mistake. My point was that 'fleeing in fear' is not what the scientists reported. The animals objectively went away. That they 'fled in fear' is editorialized.


I was hoping article was about a new John McAfee kink.


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