A rare subspecies of killer whale was captured on film earlier this week, as a pod of the massive predators toyed with an unfortunate sevengill shark, passing the animal back and forth before eventually dispatching and devouring their helpless prey.
The unusual footage was captured on Tuesday by Slater Moore of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, according to Grind TV. Taken with a drone, the three-and-a-half minute long clip reveals a pod of offshore killer whales, a rarely seen smaller subspecies, as they passed around, and eventually finished off, the unfortunate shark. Held upside down in the larger animals’ jaws, the sevengill shark was likely in a state known as tonic immobility, which would have rendered it paralyzed and helpless in its final moments.
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In keeping with their name, offshore orcas are usually spotted no closer than nine miles from shore, as NOAA fisheries noted. Usually sighted in groups of 25 or more, offshore killer whales are among the least observed, and consequently the least understood, of all cetaceans. As Whale and Dolphin Conservation, a charity focused on protecting the animals, highlighted, it is highly unusual for the species to be encountered by humans, especially so close to shallow water.
“Little is known about the elusive Offshore orcas, as they live far from land ― mainly over the outer continental shelf ― and are rarely encountered.”
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The footage in question was taken during a cruise with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, according to the Huffington Post. Over the course of the clip, the killer whales toy with the sevengill shark, dragging it around the waters of Monterey Bay. Two females and two calves were involved in the incident, which was thought to be a teaching experience for the younger whales.
Though offshore killer whales are rarely encountered, this footage hardly represents the first time that the species has been observed preying upon sharks. In 2014, a whale watching charter observed a group of orcas in the Neptune Islands harassing, and eventually devouring a great white shark, as they apparently taught their calves to hunt the apex predator. Cage diving charters reported that the white shark’s death frightened away other members of its species for months thereafter, decimating a major part of the region’s tourism industry.
— Daniel Schneider (@BiologistDan) December 12, 2016
Offshore killer whales tend to travel in medium sized groups, ranging from 25 to 75 individuals. The species has been spotted moving in pods of up to 200 members, however. Their teeth are often worn smooth, an indication to researchers that they prey upon fish with rough skin, like the sevengill shark pictured in Moore’s footage.
According to Katlyn Taylor, a naturalist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, offshore killer whales are observed in the region roughly once every year.
“They’re kinda tricky animals to study. They hold their breath a long time, they swim really fast, they travel way offshore. That’s part of the fun though, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Sevengill sharks are also an unusual and rarely observed species, as the Inquisitr has previously noted. Identified by their distinctive namesake set of seven gill slits, the species prefers to spend its time near the sea floor, only infrequently venturing to the surface. Inhabiting the Pacific and the Southern Atlantic, sevengill sharks are notably common in the San Francisco Bay area, particularly around Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Older members of the species tend to live in deeper offshore habitats, while younger sevengills are found in shallower estuaries or deep channels within bays.
Both sevengill sharks and offshore killer whale are equally infrequently sighted, making Moore’s footage one of the more unusual clips to come out of the region in recent years.
[Featured Image by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images]