Shark Week Night 3: What predator is killing great whites?


The third night of Shark Week answered major questions about why sharks attacked and why they’ve recently come under attack by another marine predator.

Shark Week brought back its long-time great white segment “Air Jaws” but with a somber twist. Shark experts put themselves in danger to test out possible shark attack deterrents, and Guy Fieri risked his life multiple times to learn about shark’s favorite foods.

Air Jaws: The Hunted

Featuring: Alison Towner, shark biologist; Chris Fallows, shark expert; Dr. Ingrid Visser, orca expert; Andy Casagrande, cinematographer

As fans know, the best recurring program Shark Week in history is Air Jaws. Since 2001, Chris Fallows has been documenting great whites breaching off the coast of South Africa in order to hunt seals.

Trending. Shark Week Night Two: Divers and Sharks and a Croc, Oh My!. light

More from Recap

In addition to filming actual kills, Fallows and his team have also towed seal decoys behind a boat in order to get the best breach photos possible. Furthermore, while breaching was thought to be a strategy unique to South African white sharks, Fallows proved a few years ago that great whites off other coasts will do so as well if a decoy is towed.

Prior to last night, the most recent Air Jaws segment during Shark Week had aired in 2016. Sadly, this year’s installment highlighted that a lot has changed since then. Great whites have been washing up dead on South African beaches with strange injuries, and surviving sharks have fled.

FRASER ISLAND, AUSTRALIA – JULY 04: In this handout photo provided by Sea World Australia a killer whale surfaces in the shallow waters July 4, 2013 on Fraser Island, Australia. A pod of nine whales are being monitored as they swim north near Fraser Island where five were beached and two died after becoming stranded on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Sea World Australia via Getty Images)

Contrary to popular belief, even among scientists, great whites may not be the ocean’s apex predator. Killer whales have stepped up their game and put great whites in their crosshairs

Orca have only ever been filmed killing white sharks two times: off the California coast in 1997 and off the southern Australia coast in 2015. Both were pod attacks on juveniles.

Then, in May 2017, Alison Towner found a juvenile white shark washed up on the shores of Gansbaai, South Africa with no obvious signs of foul play, only a few scratches.

However, over the course of May and June, four more white sharks washed up in much worse shape. Two were adult sixteen-footers and all had very specific gruesome injuries. Their undersides were torn apart and their livers were missing. Surviving great whites abandoned Gansbaai. Eight months went by and none had returned.

According to Ingrid Visser, who has seen orca hunt other shark species in New Zealand, the whales purposefully target the liver, which is apparently high in calories. Furthermore, the echolocation clicks orca use to hunt may actually hone in on sharks’ livers.

In terms of how orca manage to kill what is frequently considered the ocean’s top predator, Visser has a theory. Orca hunt in pods and are apparently quantifiably smarter than sharks.

She believes they work together to debilitate the shark, potentially with a tail slap, then flip it over. Turning a shark on its back triggers a trance-like state known as tonic immobility in which a shark becomes essentially paralyzed.

Interestingly, though, the team discovered that all fives deaths were the work of only two killer whales, which locals had named Port and Starboard. The whales were easy to identify because of their collapsed dorsal fins, which usually a result of being held in captivity.

Visser was unsure what trauma could’ve caused their fins to collapse in the wild but thought the attacks could be linked to their injuries. As strange as it sounds, she theorized that great whites could potentially be easier prey for an injured orca to hunt.

Port and Starboard moved on from Ganasbaai to nearby Mossel Bay, which has a sizable population of juvenile great whites. Curiously, Port and Starboard were driven off by a pod of fellow orca. The pair was last seen in Cape Point, South Africa, and have not been spotted in months.

Laws of Jaws

Featuring: Liz Parkinson, shark expert; Nick LeBouf, shark expert; Mike Dornellas, shark expert, and photographer; Andy Casagrande

So, I know I complained the other day about Bear Grylls trying to get himself attacked by a shark. This time, though, actual sharks experts tried to recreate real-life shark attack scenarios for science, and it was quite fascinating.

The episode opened with a warning telling viewers not to attempt the experiments themselves. It seems like that should be fairly obvious, but I’m sure they were just covering their bases legally.

Apparently, 2017 was a record-breaking year for shark attacks. Liz, Nick, Mike, and Andy teamed up to determine whether human behavior could be to blame. In other words, could victims have avoided attacks if they had acted differently? Here are the five real-life scenarios they tested.

1. Fatal tiger shark attack on a scuba diver off Costa Rica coast

The victim turned her back on the shark after spotting it, so Nick decided to see if he could deter attacks by facing the sharks.

The verdict: Tiger sharks will veer off if you turn to face them as they’re approaching from behind, potentially because they’ve lost the advantage of a surprise attack. But it also depends on the tiger shark. One shark repeatedly swam toward Nick while he was facing forward. Nick had to push it away several times before it left.

2. Fatal tiger shark attack during a night dive off the coast of Fiji 

Mike and Andy went under at night to test whether the lights divers use might actually attack sharks and prompt an attack. Once they had a few tigers circling, they turned off their flashlights for ten seconds, theorizing that the sharks would lose interest and leave.

The verdict: Tiger sharks don’t care if you turn off the lights. When Mike and Andy turned the flashlights back on, they were both face-to-face with tigers and had to quickly nudge them away.

3. Non-fatal bull shark attack on body boarder off Florida coast

It’s a pretty well-known fact that splashing attracts sharks. The team decided to test if such a diversion could actually save the body boarder’s life.

Liz paddled 100 yards from the shore on a body board. Andy filmed from below while also serving as a lookout. When he spotted a bull shark, Liz headed for shore to test if the shark would pursue. It did, which initiated phase two.

Every time Andy reported the shark coming within a few meters of Liz, she would freeze while Nick and Mike splashed in the shallows. They predicted the shark would get distracted, giving Liz the opportunity to escape.

The verdict: Splashing works as a diversion but only temporarily. Each time, Liz would start moving again, the shark would renew its pursuit. Andy eventually radioed the team to sound a dive alarm, which sent the shark away for good, but only after it had come within feet of Liz.

4. Kitesurfer fatally attacked by three or four sharks off the Florida coast

After the attack, it was theorized that the victim had unfortunately surfed right above a school of fish and gotten caught up in a shark feeding frenzy.

To test whether a surfer could survive in such a scenario, Mike hung off a surfboard in open water. When three bulls started circling 15 feet below, the team chummed the water. Mike planned to use eye contact and an electronic shark repellent device attached to his ankle to prevent an attack.

The verdict: Eye contact did nothing. The electronic device kept the bulls at bay but only temporarily. After a few minutes, they started coming in close, and Mike even had to kick one away. Ultimately, the sharks were driven off by “concussive slapping.”

The technique involves pushing your hand down hard to create a dense, vertical cloud of bubbles. Unlike splashing, concussive slapping intimidates sharks.

5. Non-fatal great white attack on a spearfisherman off the California coast

The victim had gotten separated from his father/dive partner while spearfishing. After spotting the shark, the man surfaced to warn his father, which is when the shark attacked. Liz and Nick decided to test the strength in numbers theory.

Would the victim have been attacked if he hadn’t been alone? Liz and Nick swam 50 yards from the boat, staying several feet apart from one another. Once one of them spotted a great white, they planned to meet up and see if they could make it back to the boat safely side-by-side. Theoretically, the white shark would lose interest once they paired up.

The verdict: Great whites are not intimidated if you have a buddy. In fact, more showed up after Nick and Liz paired up. The experts did have the advantage of being able to coordinate and watch each other’s back. So, they did prove that having a buddy may lower your chances of being attacked, but not for the reason they thought it would.

Lastly, as a bonus experiment, the team drew a sample of Nick’s blood, and he released it amidst a circle of sharks. Surprisingly, nothing happened. According to Liz, sharks are more attracted to the blood scent of their normal prey sources

Guy Fieri’s Feeding Frenzy

Featuring: Guy Fieri; Hunter Fieri, his son; Michelle Cove, dive master; Andrea Vitali, shark feeder; Andy Casagrande

I have to say Shark Week kind of dropped the ball on this one. Guy Fieri was great and maybe the most enthusiastic guest I’ve ever seen. But my god, he had way too many close calls that could’ve been avoided if the team had been more careful.

Next. Shark Week Night One: Celebrities take the plunge. dark

For starters, neither he nor his son Hunter are experienced divers at all. Nonetheless, they literally got thrown into the deep end to watch chumsicle feeding frenzies, which are guaranteed to be uncontrollable.

Several precautions could’ve been taken such as having Guy and Hunter watch the frenzies from a cage. Instead, they watched from below as feeding shark completely blocked any escape route back to the boat.

Additionally, on a later dive, Guy was put in grave danger because his oxygen tank started leaking. Maybe the damage was done underwater and was, therefore, unavoidable. But maybe they didn’t check the equipment carefully enough.

Are you enjoying Shark Week? Tell us your thoughts on Day 3!