Sea lions launch frenzied attack on thresher sharks; ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’

Sea lion devours thresher shark. Photo: Slater Moore Photography

Whale watchers off Southern California on Wednesday witnessed a bizarre frenzy involving sharks and sea lions – the odd twist being that the sea lions were the predators, and the sharks prey.

The spectacle off Newport Beach was captured on video and in stills by Slater Moore, a photographer aboard the Western Pride out of Davey’s Locker Sportfishing and Whale Watching.

The sharks were thresher sharks, which can reach lengths of about 15 feet, boast fairly small mouths, and feed mainly on schooling bait fish they stun with their long, scythe-like tail fins.

Sea lions have been spotted eating thresher sharks before, but on Wednesday there were multiple predator-prey events involving both species, each within a mile from shore.

Sea lion eats thresher shark and a gull looks for scraps. Photo: Slater Moore Photography

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Moore told GrindTV. “We pulled up to a huge bird school with a sea lion finishing off the tail end of a thresher, and he drug it under and the we spun the boat around and all the birds were flying over to another sea lion with a brand new thresher, still alive.

“Then we leave and go to another live thresher under attack, and as we were leaving the captain saw another sea lion pop up with one!”

In all, passengers and crew witnessed five attacks by five sea lions on five different thresher sharks, which measured to about 4 feet.

California sea lions, which can measure about 8 feet and weigh as much as 800 pounds, are opportunistic feeders that prey predominantly on smaller fish and mollusks, but will occasionally target small sharks.

Sea lions, in turn, are sometimes preyed upon by great white sharks, mako sharks, and killer whales.

Thresher sharks, which are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide, are most commonly seen in pelagic waters, but sometimes congregate closer to shore.

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