The last time we checked in with shark tagger Keith Poe, he was hanging around a bloated dead whale. The experienced fisherman knows that a little patience in the presence of drifting animal remains out at sea often leads to exciting encounters with the ocean's top predators – and his most recent carcass find was no different. 


During a fishing trip in late September, Poe happened upon a dead elephant seal between Santa Barbara and San Nicolas Island, the most remote of California's Channel Islands. "I was hunting and I saw commotion in the distance, about half a mile away," he recalls. "I went over and saw the elephant seal floating upside down, with its head hanging from a small patch of skin, and a very large area of blood."

Despite the seal's grisly appearance, there were initially no predators in sight – but Poe made the call to kill his motor and bob along beside the carcass nonetheless. Trusting his instincts paid off: after about 30 minutes, a large female great white shark came in for a taste. 

"She was very cautious, careful and gentle," says Poe. "Swimming around very slowly when she approached the carcass. She seemed to sink her teeth in and examine for bones before she would start thrashing, ripping off chunks of flesh." 

California's elephant seals are true pinniped heavyweights: the hefty marine mammals can measure four to five metres (13-16ft) in length, and exceed 2,000 kilograms (4,400lbs). Sheer mass aside, the seals are also fantastic divers and pack a powerful bite. Conquering such formidable prey can be a tough job, even for skilled hunters like great whitesFor this reason, juvenile elephant seals are targeted by the sharks more frequently than sub-adults like the individual in Poe's footage.

It's certainly possible, however, that Poe arrived on the scene just after the female great white had executed what would have been an arduous hunt. The fresh blood visible around the carcass, he notes, certainly points to that scenario. "My opinion is there is a zero percent chance this was a lucky find [by the great white]. If there was another shark, I would have seen it."

Poe stuck with the shark for the next eight hours – and while he wasn't able to place a tag on the sizeable predator (about five metres nose to tail), he did manage to film several feeding events using a pole camera.

"She returned to the carcass every 30 minutes," he says. "In the middle of the night, she [also] let a nine-foot (3m) blue shark come in to feed." 

Supersized meals can make great whites lethargic, which might explain why this female opted to space out her snacks. In the early morning hours of the following day, the animal moved off for good, having finally had her fill. 

"She ate everything except for the backbone and rib cage," says Poe. "And I believe she discarded the head as well. It's always exciting to have such enormous predators, so close, for an extended time."



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