Great White Shark Captured Taking Down 32-Foot Humpback Whale In ‘Strategic Kill’

by : Cameron Frew on : 18 Jul 2020 14:43
Great White Shark Captured Taking Down 32-Foot Humpback Whale In 'Strategic Kill'National Geographic

A great white shark has been filmed ‘strategically killing’ a 32-foot humpback whale in what’s believed to be the first verified report of its kind. 

The attack took place off the coast of South Africa, with the shark – known to researchers as Helen – filmed biting into the young whale’s tail, opening up an artery and causing it to bleed massively before slaughtering it.


Ryan Johnson, research coordinator for Blue Wilderness Research unit, managed to catch the encounter using his drone, dubbing the shark an ‘experienced whale killer’.

You can check out a clip of the brutal shark attack in the video below: 


The marine biologist told The Times: ‘The shark was very strategic about it, there was no hesitation, it was as if she knew exactly how to go about it.’


Recording the incident was a complete fluke for Johnson, who ventured out to the area after reports of a whale being entangled in a net. When he arrived, he was surprised to find the whale alive, albeit in a pretty awful shape. Then came Helen.

Shark Attacking Humpback WhaleNational Geographic

He told Newsweek:

The idea that I was witnessing a live predation event slowly arrived when I started watching the shark trying to bite onto the whale’s tail area. I honestly did not quite compute what a unique event it was until afterwards.

I had heard of Orca pods taking on large whales and calves, but honestly thought it was well out of the scope of great white sharks. From everything I found, this was really the first verified report of a shark successfully killing a living whale.


Ordinarily, a great white shark wouldn’t be a problem for an adult humpack whale, which would usually smack it away with its tail. However, in addition to being left alone by its group, ‘this whale was so weakened that it gave the shark the upper hand and thus confidence to instigate the attack,’ Johnson explained.

Ryan Johnson Shark Attacking Humpback WhaleNational Geographic

He continued:

I think… this behavior is very rare and requires a number of aspects to all come together to be possible. A weak whale passing through a great white hot spot, and then a large and confident great white encountering it.

Great whites and other top predators function in keeping ecosystems in balance, mainly by removing weak or unhealthy prey from the ecosystem. In this case, we are talking about one of the planet’s largest predators attacking and killing one of the world’s largest species.


In the fallout of the attack, researchers have been looking at whale migration patterns, other weakened whales and whether this was a rare incident. ‘It is just fascinating that we live on a planet that can still surprise us with an encounter of this magnitude,’ Johnson said.

Further footage of Helen’s attack will be aired as part of Shark vs. Whale, a National Geographic documentary premiering on Tuesday, July 28, as part of the channel’s three-week Sharkfest.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Animals, Great white sharks, Sealife, Sharks, South Africa, Whale


The Times and 2 others
  1. The Times

    Strategic shark kills ten-metre whale

  2. Newsweek

    Great White Shark Filmed Drowning Whale in First Known Attack of Its Kind

  3. National Geographic

    Shark vs Whale