Sharks and Orcas: with Edwar Herreño

If you haven't seen the video already, Undersea Hunter Group published what is being considered as one of the coolest and rarest insights into the world of sharks and Orcas and how they interact with one another when it comes to hunting. The video shows an animal that is normally an apex predator (Tiger shark) as prey for a pod of Orcas. It is a two minute and twenty eight seconds video showing Orcas chasing, playing with and eventually killing and eating a Tiger shark in Cocos Island.


To better understand why this video is so fascinating we have to understand that Cocos Island is designated as a national park and fishing of any kind is not allowed; not that it doesn't happen, but that's for a completely different blog! Cocos Island is known for its' rich ecology and for always having an abundance of any given animal at any time. This video is one of the better highlights as to why what you see with Undersea Hunter Group, you will not see with anyone else. 

We decided to interview Edwar Herreño, the man behind the famous video, and this is what he had to say: (Spanish to English translations provided by Susana Navajas)

 STS: Please give us a bit of background on you and your work.

STS: Por favor, denos un poco de antecedentes sobre usted y su trabajo.

 EH: I was born in Colombia and there I completed my studies in Marine Biology at the University of Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano. I worked several years in Colombia in the recreational diving industry and that same passion brought me to Costa Rica in 2002. In March 2004, I did my first trip to Cocos Island and my life changed completely; in February 2005 I joined Undersea Hunter Group, where I performed more specializations in recreational diving and started my career in technical diving, for which I am now an instructor. I am a yacht Captain, an underwater photographer and videographer; I am very in love with my work and Cocos Island has been the best experience of my life.

EH: Nací en Colombia, allí realize mis estudios de Biologia Marina, graduado de la Universidad de Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano. Trabaje algunos años en Colombia en la industria del buceo recreativo y esa misma pasión me trajo a Costa Rica en 2002. En marzo 2004 realize mi primer viaje a Isla del Coco y mi vida cambio por completo; En febrero de 2005 me vincule con la empresa Undersea Hunter en donde realize más especializaciones en buceo recreativo y empece mi carrera en buceo tecnico del cual soy instructor. Capitan de Yate, fotografo y videógrafo submarino enamorado de mi trabajo y de Isla del Coco que ha sido la experiencia de mi vida.

STS: How did you get involved with Undersea Hunter Group?

STS: Como se involucro con Undersea Hunter Group?

EH: A good friend of mine, Miguel Sanchez, worked with them as a dive master and he was the one that connected me with the company.

EH: Un muy buen amigo mío, Miguel Sanchez, trabajo en la empresa como Dive Master y fue quien me vinculo con ellos.

STS: How often do you go out with the UHG's ships (Sea Hunter & Undersea Hunter)?

STS: Con que frecuencia usted sale con los barcos de el UHG (Sea Hunter & Undersea Hunter)?

EH: The first six years I worked full time on the boat, going on voyages of 10 - 16 days between Malpedo in Colombia and Cocos Island; then for a year I did a trip a month and then I became the Dive Officer. At the beginning of this year, I left that post and I now go on a trip every month.

EH: los primeros 6 años trabajaba tiempo completo en el barco, realizando viajes de 10 - 16 días entre Malpelo en Colombia e Isla del Coco; luego hice un año donde realice un viaje al mes y luego me convertí en el encargado de buceo (Dive Officer). A principios de el presente año sali de ese cargo y ahora realizo viajes cada mes.

STS: How often do you see Orcas in Cocos Island?

STS: Con que frecuencia ve usted Orcas en la Isla del Coco?

EH: To be honest, they're not very common. But for the past three years we have seen them during the month of September and they usually stay 1 - 2 weeks on the island.

EH: No son muy frecuentes para ser muy sincero, pero las hemos visto los últimos 3 años en los meses de Septiembre en donde se quedan de 1 - 2 semanas en la isla.

STS: What made that day different? How were the Orcas different?

STS: Que hizo ese dio diferente? Como eran las Orcas diferente?

EH: That day was very different due to the fact that it's not everyday you see Orcas hunting, killing and eating the largest predator on the island, the Tiger shark. The best thing about this experience is that we witnessed the whole process. We had seen the Orcas during the week, even saw them eating other sharks (Hammerhead sharks and Silky sharks) but we only saw a part of that action. That day with the Tiger shark we saw all of it, and I'm well aware of how lucky we were to have witnessed it.

EH: Ese día fue bastante particular ya que no todos los días vez Orcas cazando, matando y alimentandose del depredador mas grande que tiene la isla, el tiburón tigre. Lo mejor de esa experiencia es que fuimos testigos de todo el proceso. Las habíamos visto durante la semana, incluso las vimos comiendo otros tiburones (Hammerheads - Silky sharks) pero solo veiamos una parte de la acción. Ese día con el tiburón tigre vimos todo el proceso. Se que fuimos muy afortunados.

STS: Please explain, moment by moment what happened between the Orcas and the Tiger shark? Was it only one shark they ate?

STS: Explique por favor, momento a momento lo que paso entre las Orcas y el Tiburon Tigre? Fue solo un tiburon que se comieron?

EH: We left our last dive of a dive trip to the island for 7 days. Later on while aboard the Sea Hunter we saw them pass by very quickly through the bay of Chatham , as if they were chasing something. Later on they stopped by a small bay close to the island of Manuelita where we had arrived. On the surface there was a juvenile Tiger shark, roughly 2.5 meters and the Orcas had him surrounded. There were six Orcas, one male, four females and 1 baby. It seemed as if they were "playing" with the shark; while one of them distracted the shark, another bit it, or hit it with its' tail... it seemed more like a game.

I remember one of our passengers wanted to jump into the water and I was doing anything possible to keep them on the boat. The Tiger shark helped me a lot when he came towards the boat and began biting it and the motors. After that incident I asked anyone if they wanted to jump in? The pool was open, to so speak, and they all responded with 'perhaps it's not a good idea'. I also had a lot of trouble maintaining the balance of the boat due to the fact that all of the passengers were on one side of it only; at one point, we almost flipped over and I don't want to imagine what would have happened to us with that very angry Tiger shark.

Later came the male Orca, he bit the Tiger shark very hard on his pectoral fin and pushed him towards the bottom. Without a doubt he killed him. Then came two large females and they ripped off his pectoral fins. Then another female Orca arrived and pushed him even further down, where he eventually disappeared. We only saw remains on the surface, where birds ate them. The Orcas then went on their way. We only know that the Orcas ate the pectoral fins and their muscles, but we could not see if they ate everything else. 

EH: Salíamos de nuestro ultimo buceo de un viaje de buceo de 7 dias a la isla. De vuelta a Sea Hunter las vimos pasar muy rápido por la bahía de Chatam, como si estuvieran persiguiendo algo; luego se detuvieron en una pequeña bahía cerca de la Isla Manuelita donde nosotros llegamos. En superficie estaba un tiburón tigre joven, de unos 2.5 meros de largo, ellas lo tenían acorralado. habían 6 Orcas, un macho, 4 hembras y una cría. Parecía como si ellas "jugaban" con el tiburón, mientras una lo distraía, la otra le mordía, o lo golpeaba con la cola…. era más como un juego.

Me acuerdo que habían unos de nuestros pasajeros que querían tirarse al agua y yo hacia lo posible por mantenerlos en el bote. El tigre me ayudo bastante cuando vino y empezó a morder el barco y los motores. después de ese incidente le pregunte a la gente: si alguien quiere saltar? la piscina esta abierta; a lo cual me respondieron: quizás no sea una buena idea. también tuve muchos problemas en mantener el balance del barco ya que todos los pasajeros estaban de un lado, en una oportunidad casi nos volteamos, no quiero imaginar que hubiese pasado con ese tiburón tigre tan enfurecido. 

luego vino la Orca macho, el tomo al tiburón tigre y lo mordió muy fuerte por la aleta pectoral, lo empujo para abajo.lo había matado sin duda. luego vinieron dos hembras grandes y le arrancaron las aletas pectorales. Luego vino otra hembra y lo empujaron para lo profundo donde desapareció. tan solo se veían restos en superficie donde eran recogidos por las aves (fragatas). luego las Orcas siguieron su camino. Solo sabemos que se comieron las aletas pectorales y los músculos que las sostienen, pero no pudimos ver si lo comieron todo.

STS: Did anything else happen after the shark was taken to the deep and eaten?

STS: Paso algo mas despues de que el tiburon fue llevado a la profundidad y se lo comieron?

EH: We couldn't see anything. We're not sure if they ate the shark, or gave it to the juveniles to "play" with. The pod of Orcas went on their way and the birds continued to eat what was left behind by the Orcas.

EH: No pudimos ver nada. no estamos seguros si lo comieron o lo dieron a la cría para que "jugara" con el. El grupo de Orcas siguió su camino y las aves (fragatas) los seguían alimentándose de los desperdicios que dejaban en su camino.

STS: Have you ever had any other experiences in the wild with Orcas hunting (specifically sharks)?

STS: Ha tenido otras experiencias en la naturaleza con Orcas cazando (tiburones especificamente)?

EH: In the past years I had seen them on the island and one time I saw them with a Silky shark in its' mouth. This week I had actually had an experience with them. I saw a male, a female and their juvenile which had a "piece of meat" in its' mouth; they passed very close to me and at that point the juvenile threw its' "toy" in front of me. I got closer to investigate and I realized it was a sharks' fetus, probably from a Silky shark. As a marine biologist I am positive it was a fetus because they are very specific (Caudal fin slightly bent and very large eyes). The mother had probably killed a pregnant shark, and then took the fetus out and gave it to the juvenile to play with. Within a matter of seconds, the mother and the juvenile came back for the "toy", and I backed off. The mother took it and gave it to the juvenile, they both the disappeared into the blue. The male was much more shy and was only seen from the surface.

EH: en años anteriores las había visto en la Isla, una vez la vi con un tiburón sedoso en la boca. Esta semana ya había tenido un encuentro con ellas. me había encontrado con un Macho, una hembra y su cría la cual tenia un "pedazo de carne" que llevaba en la boca, pasaron cerca de mi y la cría tiro su "juguete" en frente mío. Yo me acerque para verlo y me di cuenta que era el feto de un tiburón, probablemente de un tiburón sedoso. Como biólogo marino estoy seguro que era un feto ya que son muy particulares (aleta caudal ligeramente doblada y ojos bien grandes). seguramente la madre había matado a un tiburón preñado, saco el feto para darselo a su cría para que jugara. Al cabo de unos segundos, madre y cría se devolvieron por el "juguete", yo me hice para atras. La madre lo recogio y se lo dio a la cria. las dos desaparecieron en el azul. el macho fue mucho mas tímido y solo lo vimos en superficie.

STS: Up to today, and other than this particular moment, what has been your favorite moment while diving in Cocos Island?

STS: Hasta el dia de hoy, y que no sea este momento en particular, cual ha sido su momento favorito durante el buceo en la Isla del Coco? 

EH: I don't think the island will ever stop surprising us, it's the best part of my job. Each trip is different and there is always something new. I will never tire of diving with 600 - 1000 Hammerheads above my head, that is very special. However, I will always remember the day that I got to swim with 7 Tiger sharks for several days; they simply would not leave, and would swim all around me. I will also never forget the time I saw 2 Tiger sharks killing and eating a sea turtle. Also, the day that a Galapagos shark attacked a Hammerhead shark and took a big chunk out of it. Not long ago, during a night dive I saw a Galapagos shark attack a White Tip Reef shark; he wanted to eat him but the White Tip got away, but of course, with a rather large bite! I especially love Baitballs, I also love seeing the Dolphins having breakfast (they follow the Bigeye Jacks so they throw up, and they then eat that). There are so many beautiful experiences. It is a very unique and amazing spot - it is magical, and I am very fortunate to work there.

EH: Creo que Jamas la isla dejara de sorprendernos, esa es la mejor parte de mi trabajo. Todos los viajes son diferentes y siempre hay algo nuevo. No me cansare de bucear con 600 o 1000 Hammerheads encima de mi cabeza, eso es muy especial. Claro que siempre recordare un día que bucie con 7 tiburones tigres por un par de días, ellos simplemente no se iban y pasaban por todos lados. tampoco se me olvidara el día que vi como 2 tigres mataban y se alimentaban de una tortuga. tampoco el dia que un tiburon de galapago ataco y le pego un mordisco bien grande a un tiburon martillo. hace poco, en un buceo nocturno vi un tiburon galapago atacar a un White tip reef shark, lo queria comer pero este pudo escapar; claro, con una mordida bien grande! Me gustan mucho los Baitballs, también me gusta ver los delfines desayunando en las mañanas (persiguen los big eye jacks para que vomiten y luego lo comen). hay muchas experiencias lindas. Es un sitio único - mágico y yo soy muy afortunado en trabajar allí.

STS: Do you have any additional footage that was not shown? If so, may we show it exclusively to Save the Sharks supporters? Crediting you and Undersea Hunter Group, of course!

STS: Tiene usted algun material adicional que no se ha mostrado? Si es asi, podemos mostrar en exclusiva a los partidarios de Save the Sharks? Acreditando a usted y Undersea hunter group, por supuesto!

EH: At the time when the Tiger shark got attacked I don't have good images, the truth is I had to sacrifice myself in order to maintain the security and the sanity at the moment on the boat. My skiff driver was in shock, and I had to drive the vessel at certain times. I have a photo of the fetus that the juvenile Orca had, and I can definitely share that with you.

EH: En el momento que paso el ataque del tigre no tengo buenas imágenes, la verdad es que tuve que sacrificarme para guardar la seguridad y la calma en este momento. Mi panguero estaba en shock y hasta tuve que manejar el bote en algunos momentos. Tengo una foto del feto que llevaban las Orcas, esa si la puedo compartir. 

 

We hope that you all enjoyed this 'Behind The Scenes' information as much as we did! 
If you still haven't seen the video that inspired this blog, be sure to check it out here: http://vimeo.com/105756171
You can also check out Undersea Hunter Group at: www.underseahunter.com