Whale Vs. Shark: Who Is the Top Predator?

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June 27, 2019
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What is the ocean’s top predator?

When we’re asked this question, many of us will probably say “shark”, more specifically the great white shark, who can detect movement in the water as far as 800 feet away. What may come as a surprise to many is that the Killer Whale is actually the ocean’s #1 predator. The Killer Whale, also referred to as the Orca Whale, is considered an apex predator, meaning it has no natural predators on earth.

When it comes to the ocean’s toughest predators, however, the killer whale and the great white shark are definitely neck in neck. We will walk through the differences between these two powerful predators and how they interact with each other in the food chain.

Killer Whale

  • Size: Female Killer Whales can reach up to 23 feet in length and weigh up to 6,000 lbs, whereas male killer whales can reach up to 32 feet and weigh as much as 12,000 lbs.
  • Speed: When killer whales are grazing through the water, they typically go about 4 mph, but they can reach speeds up to 30 mph.
  • Hunting: Killer whales typically hunt in pods, groups of about a dozen whales. They work together and teach themselves techniques for hunting and killing prey.
  • Diet: Typically, the diet of a killer whale is very diverse and depends on their location. But their diet can consist of anything from fish, salmon, seals, octopus, squids, and other marine mammals such as penguins, sea lions, sea turtles and seabirds. They have teeth that can be up to 4 inches long that are used to tear apart prey before they swallow.

Great White Shark

  • Size: Female great white sharks can reach anywhere between 15-21 ft. in length, whereas males will reach up to 15-21 ft. in length. Adult great whites can weight anywhere between 1,500-2,500 lbs.
  • Speed: Great White Sharks typically swim at around 15 mph but can reach speeds up to 35 mph in short, powerful bursts.
  • Hunting: Great white sharks are solitary hunters, and typically capture their prey by surprise. When it spots its prey, it positions itself underneath and swims upwards very fast. Then it bursts out of the water, breaching the ocean surface with its prey in its mouth. They will use their teeth to bite their prey until they bleed to death, so they do not struggle or suffer injury in the course of consumption. Some researchers have seen these sharks bite their prey, wait until they bleed to death, and then return to feast.
  • Diet: Great white sharks prefer fatty animals like seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and otters, but eat other marine animals such as fish and sea turtles.

Killer Whale Vs. Great White Shark

Although the great white shark and the killer whale are both fearsome marine predators, how exactly do they interact with each other, if at all, in the ocean?  

Do Killer Whales Eat Sharks?

Without question, killer whales are the more formidable of the two species. Studies have found that whenever killer whales pass through an area in the ocean, great white sharks flee and don’t return to the area for an entire year even though killer whales may just be passing through. Killer whales may be the more dominant predator, but it is rare that they will kill and eat a great white shark, though it can happen sometimes.

Do Sharks Eat Whales?

The short answer to this is no. A great white shark simply cannot overpower a whale. Researchers are only aware of a handful of instances where sharks have been found feasting on a killer whale carcass, but unconfirmed of how they died.

Do They Attack Humans?

Although humans are never on the menu for killer whales or great white sharks, they are certainly powerful enough and capable to kill. Since 2000, there have been 6 confirmed human fatalities from great white sharks in the wild. Sharks prefer fattier meals, and the composition of the human body is typically too muscular for their preference.

But surprisingly, there have been no recorded killer whale attacks on humans in the wild – only one recorded bite. Although killer whale attacks on humans in the wild are rare, they can happen more often when held in captivity. Since 2013, there have been four fatalities as a result of interactions with orcas. Each of these incidents happened when orcas were held in captivity (mainly in SeaWorld), and 3 of the fatalities involved one famous whale named Tilikum. There have been many other injuries on SeaWorld trainers that involved captive-held orcas. SeaWorld has phased out killer whale shows since 2017.

Whale Watching Cruise with Harbor Breeze

If you want to get up close and personal with some of the ocean’s most majestic sea mammals, take a whale watching cruise with Harbor Breeze for an unforgettable experience the entire family will love. Our on-board naturalists will “wow” you with surprising facts about all you will see on the ocean. Contact us to book your cruise today!

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