Clash of the titans: white sharks vs. orcas

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.

A new study illustrates what happens when orcas and white sharks encounter each other in the wild. Photo © Jim Capwell/www.divecentral.com

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?”

White sharks are seasonal visitors to the Farallon Islands, where they prey on elephant seals and other pinnipeds. Photo courtesy NOAA

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.

“We just went straight there,” he says. “We got there right as it was finishing. I saw the two orcas sticking their heads out of the water and squealing like they do when they have a kill. And the shark just sank away.” Continue reading Clash of the titans: white sharks vs. orcas

Sampling the snowy plover song

A snowy plover with a broken wing cheeped to her chicks at Monterey Bay Aquarium’s wild bird rehabilitation facility.

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A Western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) with summer plumage in the Aviary exhibit.

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.

Continue reading Sampling the snowy plover song