Whale Kills Shark, Setting Biology on Its Ear

This story and the related video retell part of what you can see in the documentary "The Whale That Ate Jaws" on the National Geographic Channel.

It tells the true story of a 1997 encounter between a great white shark and an orca killer whale. Partially captured on film, it was witnessed by a boat-full of people on a whale watching trip near the Farallon Islands, 26 miles west of San Francisco.

Our report that follows is written in the same Old English verse form used in the great medieval epic, "Beowulf."

Readers may remember that Beowulf himself was said to be a formidable swimmer beneath the waves.

Nightmare of the Great White

What could be worse
           than the great white?

The nightmare shark,
           the master monster,

Gobbler of gullible
           bathers at beaches,

Cruelest of killers
          (as "Jaws" has burned into our brains)

Row upon row
           of flesh-tearing teeth.

A fearless bully
           for he fears none

Of the other creatures
           in the sea. Or does he?

Well ....

One sunny day
           near California's coastal islands.

Where about a hundred great whites gather
           for two months every fall,

To dine on the sumptuous
           sun-bathing seals,

A tourist boat chanced
           on a surprising display.

At this point an orca whale surfaces next to the boat with a shark in its mouth. "He is eating the shark!! a woman is heard shouting on the film shot that day. "Oh, my God...this is really, really strange!"

A biologist was radioed.
           He rushed to the scene.

When he got there, the great white
           beast was just scattered

Gobbets of flesh
           floating like flotsam.

But what had happened?!
           It soon became clear,

The fatuous fish
           had met his match.

A magnificent mammal --
           orca, the killer whale,

Apex predator,
           the "Wolf of the Sea"

Had dispatched the fish-brained
           and shameful shark,

Who'd been loitering -- lurking
           near the land-lubbers boat.

The captain of the whale-watching boat, Mick Menigoz, told National Geographic, "All of a sudden, one of the orcas made a b-line in this direction! There was a splash, and then nothing."

"There was no blood, there was no thrashing around," naturalist Mary Jane Schramm, who was on the boat that day, told National Geographic. "It was only when the killer whale emerged... coming back toward the boat, carrying the shark in its mouth...that's when we knew what had actually gone down."

"This orca came up next to the boat, holding this what now appeared to be a dead white shark by the back of the neck," Menigoz said, "and held it up for us like a cat with a mouse, you know, just showing off."

Biologist Peter Pyle was baffled. "It was unprecedented. It kind of blew our minds. It was a complete surprise to us to see an orca take a white shark. We just had no idea that could happen," he told National Geographic.

'Twas the first time ever
           in the annals of science,

A great white had been done in
           by another sea denizen.

Along all the West Coast,
           anchor-folk anguished:

"This may be the first time anyone's
           actually seen it happen!"

Soon, scientists worldwide
           scrambled and studied,

Followed sharks and orcas
           year after year,

And finally found
           How this marvelous mammal

With its prodigious brain
           has shark sushi for lunch:

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