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A whale watcher out of Monterey, California recorded a huge pod of dolphins leaping away from several hungry orcs.
     USA TODAY

The great white shark may not be the ocean's top predator after all.

In the research published Tuesday in Nature, the researchers found white sharks not only fled from killer whales when they arrived at a marine sanctuary near San Francisco but cleared out until the next season.

"When confronted by orcs, white sharks will immediately vacate their preferred hunting ground and will not return for up to a year, even though the orcs are only passing through," said Salvador Jorgensen, Senior Research Scientist at Monterey Bay Aquarium and Leader of the study.

Minutes after orcs appeared to be feeding on elephant seals, researchers said white sharks began to be swimming offshore or crowding together in other colonies of the colony farther along the coast

Some of the white sharks that usually dominate the The sanctuary stretch more than 18 feet long, said Monterey Bay Aquarium scientist Scot Anderson.

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Researchers compared data from electronic tracking tags on sharks and field observations of orca sightings. The predators do not often encounter each other at the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, researchers said, because orcas only visit the area occasionally while white hawks usually gather for more than a month each fall.

Elephant seals also benefited from the interaction , the study found, suffering from four to seven times less attacks in the years, white sharks fled. Researchers looked at 27 years of seal, orca, and shark surveys in the area in addition to 165 white sharks tagged between 2006 and 2013.

"After the orcs show, we do not see a single shark and there are no more kills, "Anderson said.

The study did not conclude whether these orcas hunted white sharks or bullied their competition, but Jorgensen said the research shows how interactions between top predators affect food chains.

Dynamics between marine predators is harder to observe than those on land, he added, noting that it may take longer to understand the relationship between orcs and white sharks because they meet so infrequently.

"We do not usually think about how fear and risk aversion may play a role in shaping where large predators hunt and how that influences ocean ecosystems," Jorgensen said. "It turns out these risk effects are very strong even for large predators like white sharks – strong enough to redirect their hunting activity to less preferred but safe areas."

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