Photographer Shawn Heinrichs is being lauded for braving the waters in the midst of a struggle between a pod of seven sperm whales and several orcas. According to Heinrichs’ blog, he and his team had spent eight days in Sri Lankan waters searching for elusive blue whales. After an arduous and cramped week, they saw little success until the very last day, when Heinrichs was able to film something never before seen from underwater.
The team’s ship chanced upon the encounter by first noticing the waves. Coming closer, cries went out of “Orcas attacking sperm whales!” Heinrich wrote that he never expected to see something for the sort firsthand and described the confrontation as violent and disturbing. Five orcas were circling seven whales in what was obviously a hunt. The predators were eyeing one of the whale calves and attempted to separate it from the others, but the whales formed a wall between the orcas and their target.
“I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and summoned up the courage to jump in the water and join the frenzy,” Heinrichs said. “All eyes fixed on me, wondering if I would become easy prey for one of the most formidable predators in the ocean.”
The photographer described his time in the water as a harrowing experience, one that put him within a tail-length of the ocean’s apex predator.
He tried to split his attention between filming the fight and keeping track of where all seven orcas were, and had a close call when it looked like one of the predators began to approach him.
“I had heard warnings before about the extreme dangers of swimming with ‘wild’ orcas,” Heinrichs recalled. “[…] “But in my heart I knew they were highly intelligent and evolved creatures who ‘should’ have no interest in hurting me. As it approached, I thought to myself, ‘well I am about to find out the answer’.”
Later, climbing back aboard the ship and somewhat shaken, Heinrichs caught the conclusion of the fight. The sperm whales were attempting to retreat from the area and somehow, the orcas managed to corner the calf. The ocean turned into a frenzy as the sperm whales fought desperately to free one of their own. As the fight occurred mostly underwater, Heinrich could not be sure if the calf escaped. Ultimately, the whale pod fled east and after a short pursuit from the orcas, were left in peace.
You can view video of the fight below: