When orcas and white sharks cross paths, only one can prevail as the true apex predator. New research from the Monterey Bay Aquarium published in Nature Scientific Reports details these rare, sometimes brutal encounters — and their ecological implications.
It’s a study decades in the making because observations of the two creatures interacting is a rarity.
Scot Anderson, a white shark expert and seasonal researcher for the Aquarium, still remembers one such run-in more than 20 years ago near the Farallon Islands, a short boat ride west of downtown San Francisco.
“The first time it happened was kind of shocking to everybody,” Scot says. “Before we had seen anything like that, people would ask, who’s the baddest predator?”
The first scorecard came on October 4, 1997, when orcas killed and partially ate a white shark within view of a whale-watching boat. Scot was heading out from nearby Bolinas when he heard what was happening over the radio.
The tiny bird’s high-pitched, staccato trills gave Aimee Greenebaum, the Aquarium’s curator of aviculture, an idea. That night, her colleagues tiptoed into the plover’s room with a microphone and recorded her peeps.
“It was a total whim,” Aimee says.
Ten years later, her team is still playing those plover-mama calls from a boom box—to coax eggs into hatching, and to soothe orphaned chicks.
The Aquarium is a rehabilitation site for the Western snowy plover, a shorebird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
During breeding season, Aimee’s team works with local parks and conservation groups to rescue and release injured snowy plovers and abandoned chicks. The collaboration has helped grow a healthy breeding population in Monterey Bay.