Orcas, also called ‘killer whales,’ are feared by great white sharks and are rarely seen off Massachusetts coast
Fishermen off the coast of Cape Cod this week spotted an orca, better known as a killer whale, in waters usually associated with great white sharks – setting the stage for a possible showdown between the ocean predators.
Jerry Leeman, fishing about 40 miles east of Nantucket, caught video of the orca swimming near his boat and offered a spirited narration.
“There’s literally a frickin killer whale beside the boat, and we’re feeding him,” Mr Leeman says in the footage, which he posted to Facebook. “You don’t see this every day, folks – at least not in New England.”
Captioning pictures of the massive animal, he wrote: “Kiler whale apex predator of the sea. Just awesome total bad@$$. Following along with us checking us out.”
The orca followed the boat for about half an hour before heading off on its own, Mr Leeman told the Boston Globe.
The waters around Cape Cod are far better known as favourite haunts of great white sharks, who usually return to the area around this time of year; one shark-spotting outfit reported this week that a large female shark was already around.
Dozens of Cape beaches were temporarily closed last year because sharks were spotted as close as nine feet from shore. The tourist mecca has had a rocky relationship with the predators in recent years; the summer of 2018 saw two great white attacks on humans, including the first fatal incident in 80 years.
At the same time, tourism has been growing around the animals, with charter boat operators offering shark-spotting trips in addition to the more established seal and whale-watching excursions.
If the killer whales encounter the great whites, however, it’s very possible that a showdown might ensue. Orcas are the only threats in the ocean to the sharks,
“When confronted by orcas, white sharks will immediately vacate their preferred hunting ground and will not return for up to a year, even though the orcas are only passing through,” said Dr. Salvador Jorgensen, senior research scientist at Monterey Bay Aquarium and lead author of a 2019 study indicating that sharks high-tail it from regions when killer whales appear.
Research and documented sightings have shown that orcas essentially rip great white sharks apart, feasting on their livers.
So while it’s been more than 45 years since Jaws was filmed on the Cape & the Islands, an epic battle may be brewing in the same waters – and, once again (spoiler alert), the shark may be the loser.