In the 34 years since Shark Week first launched, the Discovery network has shown footage of sharks jumping, sharks fighting, sharks migrating, sharks attacking, sharks being invented (remember the Megalodon?), sharks racing Michael Phelps, sharks sparring with Mike Tyson, and sharks biting a cast member from Jackass.
Suffice it to say, it’s remarkable—after three decades and thousands of hours of programming—for there to be something completely new to show viewers who are ravenous each summer for shark content.
During Shark Week filming earlier this year, a drone camera captured footage of a pack of orca whales (killer whales) killing a great white shark. Nothing like this has been captured for Shark Week before, and it is crucial video evidence to support scientists’ theories that great whites are migrating—or rather fleeing—from their usual habitats because they are being hunted by orcas, a new phenomenon.
The stunning footage will debut on Thursday in the special Shark House, but you can see the exclusive clip here on the Daily Beast below:
Alison Towner, a scientist based in South Africa, has been studying the movement ecology of great white sharks for 15 years and has published a recent paper on the orcas’ shocking predation of great whites.
This footage, she reiterates several times as we speak over the phone, isn’t just astonishing—it’s historic. “It's probably one of the most beautiful pieces of natural history ever filmed.”
“I really do think once that footage airs, it's going to go viral,” she tells the Daily Beast. “The whole world is going to go into a frenzy about it because it's just so unique.”
The clip shows three orcas in South Africa’s Mossel Bay, an area that had famously been an aggregation site for great whites, but has seen them disappearing. The whale in the middle comes to the surface clenching a dead shark in its jaws. The great white is about nine-feet-long—“so not a tiny animal,” Towner quips—and the orca is biting it around its liver area. You begin to see a large amount of blood pool around the two other whales while the original dives back down into the water with it.
“We’ve had all the evidence for killer whales being responsible for killing white sharks,” Towner says. Carcasses have washed up on the beach with their livers missing. Data revealing a change in the whales’ cycling habits and revealing that the white sharks have fled the coasts where they used to habituate, suggesting a correlation. “But this is the world's first drone footage of killer whales predating on a white shark. It's the first time in South Africa it's ever been documented as direct evidence.”
Towner’s article in the African Journal of Marine Science goes into more depth about how these killer whales’ recent predation is responsible for great whites fleeing the areas of South Africa where they once thrived.
Shark House airs Thursday night on Discovery and Discovery+. And if you’d like to check out some more great Shark Week footage, check out this clip below from Air Jaws: Top Gun, a special about high-flying sharks captured breaching with new state-of-the-art footage.