Shark or Orca: Which Should You Fear More?

In the wild, are humans more likely to survive an encounter with an Orca or a great white shark?

– Kameryn F., Yardley, Father.

By the numbers, great white sharks are much more dangerous to humans than orcas. Despite the name “killer whale”, there is only one well-documented case of a wild Orca attacking someone – Hans Kretschmer, who was bitten on the leg while surfing in California in 1972. Great white shark attacks, although still rare, occur slightly more frequently; there are a few hundred in profile.

So why are killer whale attacks so rare? Emma Luck, a cetacean researcher at the University of Alaska, tells me that a large part of the reason is that Orcas don’t come into contact with humans very often. “Killer whales are found in all oceans, but they tend to be found in higher densities around cold, high-latitude regions,” she wrote in a message. “These are areas where the water isn’t particularly appealing to casual beachgoers!”

She said the 1972 Orca attack was probably a case of mistaken identity, as is the case with many shark attacks. “In an open water setting where all parties can clearly see each other, I would wager that both sharks and killer whales will leave you alone,” she said.

In fact, it doesn’t take you long to browse police blogs to confirm that killer whale cases are not only rarer than shark attacks, but are also rarer than documented cases of human swimmer was attacked and bitten. the others. Yes, that’s because there are more people than orcas around, but that doesn’t change the conclusion: In the ocean, you’re more likely to be attacked and bitten by a human than by a killer whale.

Because both sharks and orcs spend most of their time lurking in the water, we often think of them in terms of their brief interactions with us – will they attack us or not? If there are only two options, “Don’t Attack Humans” and “Attack Humans”, it’s hard not to focus on the latter. After all, it’s the second possible option!

But sharks and orcas don’t just hang out down there deciding whether to attack us or not. Like friends on the street, they are mostly busy doing their own thing.

And in the case of orcas, one of the things they’re busy doing is worrying about humpback whales.

For reasons that are not yet clear to scientists, humpback whales appear to have an affinity for killer whales, as a 2016 article in the journal Marine Mammal Science note. All around the world, orcas trying to chase food frequently interrupted by attacks by humpback whales. Humpbacks will band together and travel great distances to interfere in killer whale hunts, regardless of the predator.

The article even documented cases of humpback whales apparently lifting seals out of the water and keeping them out of the reach of orcas. The humpbacks stayed and protected their prey for hours, until the Orcas were forced to starve.

Why would a hunchback do this? Is this altruism? Game theory? The association between mammals? A side effect of their calves protective instinct? Or do they really hate orcas, for reasons only they know?

Mrs Luck said: ‘It’s hard to understand why it happened. “Especially because it’s not just limited to a population of hunchbacks. It happens all over the world.”

So if you encounter a killer whale in the ocean, don’t worry, it’s unlikely to attack you. And if you’re still worried… maybe consider making friends with a hunchback man.

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