Feb. 7, 2010 -- Killer whales, or orcas, are the top predators in the sea. But new footage from National Geographic shows the massive creatures doing some of their most startling hunting not in the ocean but on the beach.
On Peninsula Vadles on Argentina's coast, there are two very unusual orcas that have taken the notion of beach-combing to a new level. Researchers have named the two Mel and Maga.
Using the force of the sea and propelled by the surf, the whales burst past the water's edge, seizing unsuspecting seals and sea lions.
"It's just awesome, awe inspiring to see these creatures launch themselves onto the beach and snatch these baby seals," said Howard Rosenbaum of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who has studied the whales' behavior.
It may be all the more awesome considering the enormous size of a killer whale -- 30 feet long and weighing more than 6 tons.
Once they've grabbed hold of their prey on the beach, Mel and Maga slide back into the deep on the smooth, round beach stones.
The whales pull plenty of seals off the beach. Just one orca will eat 500 pounds of food a day, and Mel and Maga aren't just hunting for themselves -- they're providing for an entire family.
This kind of behavior does not come naturally -- the whales' instinct is to stay in the safety of the water.
"One of the most amazing things is that this is learned behavior," said Rosenbaum. "The whales actually teach each other how to do it."
Just a few whales ever try this, and Mel and Maga are already passing on their skills to a new generation -- in an underwater killing school that is now beyond the water's edge.