Orcas have a formidable assortment of hunting strategies at their disposal, but one of their more impressive tricks involves launching hapless prey high up into the air. Like this:


This incredible moment was caught on camera by diver and underwater videographer Clinton Bauder while out near Point Pinos in Pacific Grove, California last month.  

Orcas (also referred to as killer whales) are among the ocean's most efficient predators for a reason: they weigh in at up to 11 tons, boast a mouth full of large, interlocking teeth, and can reach top speeds of around 30 miles (48 kilometres) per hour. They're also highly social and intelligent – and that makes their hunting strategies creatively lethal.

Often, the tactics depend on what's for dinner: schools of fish are herded and snared by bubbles, while sharks are sometimes dispatched with "karate chops". But when it comes to fast and agile common dolphins (like the one in these photos), the hunt often sees a pack of killer whales teaming up in a coordinated attack and pursuing their quarry at extremely high speed.

“Imagine being a whale chasing a dolphin at 20 knots. It really can’t open its mouth because the drag on its lower jaw would be pretty horrific. So they tend to just ram them, and in doing so, the prey often do go flying in the air,” John Ford, a whale biologist at Fisheries and Oceans Canadatold Wired when a similar incident played out in California's Monterey Bay in 2013.

Killer whales have been observed "punting" several different species of dolphins and porpoises – and the resulting trauma can be pretty grisly. "When they hit Dall's porpoises, they do it to eviscerate them," says cetacean researcher Dr Chris Parsons. "They hit them so hard that their entrails pop out, which [the orcas] leave behind after eating the muscle and blubber."  

And it's not just cetaceans. Stunned whale watchers off the Canadian coast witnessed an orca hurling a Pacific harbour seal 80 feet into the air just last year. In that instance, the slower-moving seal was dispatched with a casual flick of the orca's tail, and according to Parsons, it was likely just a bit of target practice on the orca's part. "They don't often eat the seals [after hitting them]," he explains.

Orca Seal Punt Related 2016 03 16


Top header image: Jon Attfield, Flickr