With their formidable arsenal of hunting tactics, from prey-flinging to bait-balling, killer whales have reliably served up a bevy of remarkable hunting displays over the years. The latest snippet of predatory juiciness comes to us from the Gulf of California courtesy of self-professed orca fanatic and photographer Jorge Cervera HauserHauser was diving off the Coast of Mexico recently when he captured this startling footage of an orca tail-slapping the sense out of a hapless stingray (the tail hit happens at 00:18.):

"I’ve been obsessed with orcas for more than seven years now," Hauser told National Geographic. "I always seem to miss them." On this occasion though, Hauser was treated to a rare spectacle that left him suitably stunned: "It was the most amazing underwater experience I’ve had in my life."

The seasoned photographer and his fellow divers were an hour or so into their swim in the Sea of Cortez off the coast of Mexico when they caught sight of a pod of orcas. Hauser counted at least six of the monochrome behemoths hanging out in groups of two or three, and each time the divers took to the water, the orcas cruised past to investigate. “But around our tenth jump, something changed," Hauser recalls.

A stingray was drifting nearby and it's arrival had not gone unnoticed by the pod. Rays typically spend their time buried in sand on the ocean floor waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey, but this one was swimming near the surface – possibly an indication that is was about to give birth, Hauser suggested. 

The killer whales quickly lost interest in the divers and instead turned their attention to the sailing stingray. The initial tail-slap stunned the ill-fated elasmobranch, after which is appeared too disorientated to escape, Hauser recalls. The orcas spent an hour and half circling, swatting and tugging on the ray until it eventually succumbed to its injuries and sunk to the depths below.

Surprisingly, the predators abandoned their kill, opting not to eat the spoils of their lengthy hunt. Orcas are known to eat rays, but it's possible that this pod were simply playing or practising their craft. “Killer whales, and many predators, sometimes kill things that they don't eat; maybe for play, maybe just to keep their skill level tuned up,” Robert Pitman of NOAA Fisheries’ Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division told National Geographic. “I have seen killer whales in Antarctica chase a penguin for half an hour, kill it, and leave it floating on the surface."

Top header image: Alexandre Bourdeu, Flickr