Forget wolves, mountain lions, tigers, and sharks—and the most popular hunter influencers on Instagram. For my money, killer whales are the ultimate predators. A recent video published as part of the BBC’s Frozen Planet II series shows exactly why.
The three-minute cut shows a pod of orcas working together to knock a resting seal off of an ice floe —and then devour him. Incredibly, the pod swims together to create a sub-surface wave, which breaks up the ice the seal is resting on. They then push the smaller chunk of ice out into open water, build another wave, and swamp the seal. With a final clever tactic, they bubble the seal into confusion and drag it beneath the surface.
The Ultimate Hunters
Power, stealth, speed, cunning, communication, teamwork…oh yeah, and echolocation—what more could you want from a hunter?
A few years ago I was having dinner (salmon, obviously) in Juneau, Alaska after a blacktail deer hunt and I got to hear about another fascinating hunting tactic that killer whales use. One of the dinner guests was Alan Corbett, an Irish-American whale-watching and fishing charter captain, and distant relative of the legendary big-cat hunter Jim Corbett. A fascination with apex predators was quite literally passed down through his bloodline.
Most of Corbett’s whale-watching tours revolve around humpbacks (which eat their share of salmon), but his best days are when he gets to chase killer whales.
“I don’t call them ‘orcas’ because I spend my days with them,” Corbett says. “I see what they can do.”
There are local killer whales, which feed on salmon. Then there are the mammal-hunting whales, which migrate through and hunt everything from seals to baby humpbacks in highly coordinated attacks.
During one outing, Corbett found a group of three killer whales chasing a pod of 15 porpoises (which also eat salmon). Corbett’s clients, a young family, watched as the trio pushed the porpoises into open water, where a whole pod of whales ambushed them from the depths, cutting the fleeing porpoises to shreds.
“The parents were worried about their kid seeing all that,” Corbett says. “But the kid was totally into it, and I was like, I can’t believe what we just witnessed.”
Surely, some folks will watch this video and, like those parents on Corbett’s boat, they might feel sorry for the seal. I understand that. But I can’t help but cheer for the whales on this one. They executed a beautiful hunt and showed why they’re the best killers in the ocean.