Killer whales cruise most seas from the Arctic to the Antarctic, but in Russia they're studied in only one place: the Kamchatka Peninsula in the country's Far East. We're still learning about the pods that patrol these waters, but one group was recently seen using teamwork to take down a 12-metre minke whale.

(If you're squeamish, skip to the second clip.)

Underwater photographer Mike Korostelev filmed the collective hunt during a six-day survey of Kamchatka with the Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP). 

"When hunting, mammal-eating orcas are quiet, but after the hunt, they were vocalising constantly!" recalls the FEROP team. "Lots to 'say' apparently!"

Killer whales that prefer mammalian meals are known as Bigg's (formerly "transient") orcas, and they're not restricted to the Far East – we recently watched on as a pod in California's Monterey Bay finished off a grey whale, for example. What sets the Russian sighting apart, however, is the start-to-finish hunting footage. 

"It's an amazing event," Tatiana Ivkovich, a researcher from St Petersburg State University, told Russia's TASS news agency. "Over the course of all our work, we have once seen orcas finish eating a whale. And here we are, watching the hunt itself."

The predation seen here, which involved flipping the minke upside down to drown it, is an impressive example of the complex collaborative tactics used by orcas to take down prey.

By working together and sharing the bounty, the pod ensures each member stays fed and healthy. This not only improves their chances of landing prey in the future, but it also ensures the whales are strong enough to defend each other from potential foes. 

Whatever their dietary preferences, killer whales are known for allowing young pod members to participate in hunts like this one (under the watchful eye of mom, of course). Their chosen strategy will vary depending on where – and what – the whales are hunting, and that know-how is passed down from the orca matriarchs. 

Some shark-eating orcas, for example, use their powerful tails to push the toothy fish to the surface. Others will flip their shark prey over, inflict a bite wound with surgical precision, and wait for the shark's buoyant liver to float upwards for the taking. Ray-eating orcas, meanwhile, opt for a "tandem" approach: one whale to subdue the dangerous barb and another to deliver a deadly bite



Top header image: jellybeanz/Flickr