Orca researcher Dr Ingrid Visser is no stranger to animal rescues. In fact, last year we watched in awe as she dove into New Zealand waters to save a tangled killer whale. But her latest rescue attempt was a little different: this time, it was a killer whale's "lunch" that needed saving.

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Dr. Visser assesses the scene. Image: Orca Research Trust

Transient orcas typically eat marine mammals, but the New Zealand population has long had a taste for something a bit fishier: sharks and rays. While out on the water, Visser and the crew at Orca Research Trust (ORT) recently encountered a pod hunting sevengill sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus) near Jack's Bay on the southeastern corner of the South Island. 

MORE: Watch: Orca launches dolphin during hunt

"One shark managed to get away by scrambling up onto some rocks, but managed to free itself," recalls the team. "Then another got stranded." Without any hesitation, Visser scrambled onto the rocks to help the struggling animal back into the ocean. Sevengills might not be as big as some shark species, but they can still weigh up to 236 pounds (107kg). Combine that with their flexible bodies, and you have one tough fish to move. It took several attempts, but Visser eventually succeeded.

"Another shark came to the back of our boat and the orca came over to investigate," says ORT. "However, the shark was having none of that and promptly opened its mouth wide at the orca, who snapped back at it and then sank deeper and swam off."

But it wasn't all bad news for the hungry whales that day. The crew watched the pod successfully kill five sharks using what they call the "karate chop" method (hitting the shark with their tails, then flipping them over).

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Bite damage. Image: Orca Research Trust
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Image: Orca Research Trust
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Predator standoff. Image: Orca Research Trust

The "Kiwi" population isn't the only one to enjoy the occasional sharky snack. Check out this clip of orcas in Costa Rica feeding on a tiger shark!

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Top header image: DeWaine Tollefsrud/Flickr