Caroline Power tells the story behind the amazing viral video she shot with Nicholas Bach of orcas hunting a tiger shark off Cocos Island.
I was clinging to rocks in a strong current at 27 meters, watching a school of a hundred or so hammerheads swim overhead when they suddenly scattered like frightened gazelle. A large bull orca appeared, an enormous shadow emerging from the blue, briefly checking us out before swimming off in the direction of the hammerheads. This, I thought, is why I came to Cocos Island, why I spent 36 hours in rough seas traveling to a speck in the Pacific. We had spotted orcas from the boat the day we arrived, but I never thought luck would allow us see them while diving. It was just incredible—even if it had only lasted a few seconds.
As I gazed giddily into the blue during the safety stop, contemplating the question, the shadows reappeared. The big bull, close to seven meters in length, was accompanied by two females and a juvenile. One of the females had what used to be a hammerhead in her mouth, a four-foot piece of spine attached to an unmistakable sickle-shaped tail.
The adults made two close passes to check us out before swimming some distance away, though still visible. The juvenile was quite curious, however, repeatedly swimming to me. At one point, he stopped a few meters away and stared at me. I could feel him looking me over, trying to figure out what the oddly shaped, slow swimming thing in front of him was. Then he swam back to the orca with the shark in her mouth, ripped off a chunk, and swam back towards me as if to show off his “catch.” He must have been bored with my lack of aquatic ability because as suddenly as they had appeared, they disappeared. Well, Cocos certainly couldn’t get any better than that—could it?
As we traveled back from our last dive of the holiday, feelings of melancholy were surfacing; I didn't want the trip to be over. We rounded the corner into Chatham Bay when, all of a sudden, the fin of the bull orca popped out of the water about 30 feet from the boat. Two other orcas then appeared, causing a commotion, fins cutting and slicing through the surface of the water.
Suddenly, the fin of a shark broke the surface and the water started churning. The fins disappeared and the water stilled. Then the shark surfaced about 15 feet from our boat—with the orcas in hot pursuit. As the shark desperately tried to fend off his attackers on the surface, I saw the telltale tiger shark stripes. Unable to get into the water due to national park regulations, I did the next best thing and put my mask on and stuck my head into the water.
What looked somewhat peaceful on the surface looked anything but from underwater. The large bull and two females were swimming rapidly around the shark, trapping it against the surface and trying to ram into him. Exhausted and injured, he dodged attack after attack, but he was tiring and the orcas were not. The shark made one last attempt to use the boat as shelter. As he swam straight at me, I could almost see the desperation in his black eyes. I lifted my head and camera out of the water before his razor sharp teeth could grab me. He then started biting the side of the boat, working himself around before attacking the engines as well—I think he wanted to get in the boat. He used the it as shelter for a little while longer until the orcas chased him back towards the surface. The water erupted one last time with what must have been the fatal blow. Then it all went calm.
I stuck my head back in the water and the orcas were just under the boat, playing with the dead shark. The bull was holding the shark and the females were taking turns biting into it. They bit the fins off and took turns rolling their catch through the water, taking a small bite here and there. They could easily have eaten it in a few bites. Instead, they toyed with it, like a cat does with a dead mouse.
On the long boat ride back to mainland Costa Rica, a video was created from the footage. Immediately after the video was posted online, I received a flood of emails from people interested in using the footage. I chose a UK-based media company, who quickly created a more sensationalized, dramatized video which has been going around Youtube, Facebook, and news outlets. I find it amusing that the video is in some ways more dramatic than the real life event. But drama sells. I can now proudly say that I was involved in the making of a viral video.
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