While the movie Jaws may portray the great white shark as the most fierce predator in the ocean, this may not actually be the case.
In new research published in Nature, Scientists have found that white sharks not only fled from killer whales when they arrived at marine sanctuary near San Francisco but they did not return till the next season.
“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 Salvador Jorgensen, senior research scientist at Monterey Bay Aquarium and lead author of the study.
The study is an astonishing discovery in the intricate interactions among top marine predators in an eco-system. Killer whales and white sharks are prominent upper trophic level predators that share overlapping habitats. The researchers performed the study by using long-term electronic tagging and survey data to reveal how the two apex predators interacted in the same waters.
The results of the study showed that brief visits from killer whale to feed on elephant seals displaced white sharks and disrupted the sharks feeding behavior for extended periods of time in the location the orca had visited. When an orca visited, the team found that white sharks relocated to other feeding sites, creating a high density of white shark populations in certain areas.
The researchers found that while white sharks behavior showed they clearly steered clear of killer whales, the predators do not often come in contact with one another as orcas only visit the area occasionally and the sharks are usually only gathered for more than a month each fall.
The study did not conclude whether those orcas hunted white sharks or bullied their competition, but recent instances over the last few years from different orca pods in South Africa has found that killer whales have been actively seeking out and killing great white sharks.
“We don’t typically think about how fear and risk aversion might play a role in shaping where large predators hunt and how that influences ocean ecosystems,” Jorgensen said. “It turns out these risk effects are very strong even for large predators like white sharks — strong enough to redirect their hunting activity to less preferred but safer areas.”