Great White shark named Helen attacks and drowns a 32-foot humpback whale


Scientists have recorded the first footage of a great white shark attacking and killing an enormous humpback whale.

Video taken from a drone off the coast of South Africa shows the 13ft-long shark hunting the whale which was around 33ft long and in ill health. 

Ryan Johnson, a marine biologist who observed the unlikely massacre, said the ordeal lasted about 50 minutes before the whale died. 

Mr Johnson said the great white was very ‘strategic’ in taking down the behemoth. It initially severed an artery or vein on the whale’s most vulnerable area, its tail, before pulling the ailing leviathan underwater and drowning it. 

While humpback whales are known to attack sharks it is very unusual for the giant mammals to be the victims. 

Footage reveals the first documented evidence of a great white shark attacking and killing an enormous humpback whale (pictured). Ryan Johnson, a marine biologist who observed the massacre, says the ordeal lasted about 50 minutes before the whale died

The great white was very strategic in taking down the behemoth, and initially severed an artery or vein on the whale’s most vulnerable area, its tail, before drowning the ailing leviathan (pictured)

The great white shark was recognised as one which researchers named Helen and tagged as part of a 2013 study led by Mr Johnson.

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

‘The first strike was at the whale’s tail, the skinny part above the flukes where she could get her mouth all the way around. 

‘She managed to open a vein and blood immediately started pluming out.’ 

The initial blow to the tail led to profuse bleeding and Mr Johnson continued to record the event via drone, which required a total of six battery changes.  

Helen the great white relented after the initial blow and waited for the whale to grow weaker as it slowly bled out and after approximately 30 minutes, the shark renewed its attack. 

This time Helen went for the head of the whale and latched on, trying to submerge the marine mammal. 

Despite being dwarfed by the giant, the shark pulled the animal down and kept its blowhole under the water. 

Mr Johnson said the whale never re-surfaced, suffering an agonising death lasting almost one hour.

Mr Johnson was observing the whale, which had mottled skin and had become separated from its pod – both indicators of poor health, when the shark attacked. 

‘Helen looked very informed about what she was doing, which made me curious about whether she was an experienced whale killer, was acting on instinct or on plain intelligence by detecting her prey was weak,’ Mr Johnson said. 

It is deeply uncommon for whales to be predated by sharks, but it is known to occur the other way round. Pictured, a great white which washed up in South Africa in 2017 . It was gashed open and had its liver removed, believed to be by hunting killer whales  

This case represents the first video footage showing an adult humpback being killed by a great white shark, but in 2015 a baby of the same species was ambushed by a group of up to 20 dusty sharks.

The size difference between adult whales and sharks often is enough of a deterrent to prevent the animals launching an opportunistic attack. 

As well as their sheer bulk, the whales also have extremely powerful tails which can offer protection against any attempts. 

However, earlier this year, a scientific study was published which reports a similar event to the one which was filmed by Mr Johnson. 

On February 17, 2017, by crew aboard the Oceans Research Institute’s research vessel attended to a live humpback whale, around 23 feet long, which had become entangled in a fishing net. 

This animal, in Mossel Bay, South Africa, was severely unwell, malnourished and covered in barnacles and whale lice.

In this event, two great white sharks were involved, and the first attacked the left flank from the rear. After a 42-minute wait, the shark launched anther similar attack. 

A different shark, this time a bigger great white around 13-feet long, then approached, causing the smaller fish to flee. It is unknown if the second shark is Helen. 

But this shark them used a similar tactic to Helen and went for the head of the humpback, but did not appear to try and drown the whale.

Instead, a final attack on the tail finished off the sickly animal, which eventually died around 90 minutes after the battle started. 

The authors of this paper write: ‘We acknowledge that this was a singular event, a consequence of the whale being entangled and in poor condition. 

‘Therefore, the event should not reflect all white shark attacks on live baleen whales. Nevertheless, this paper presents observations on a rarely observed interaction between white sharks and live whales.’ 

Great whites and whales have increasingly been coming into contact with one another in recent years.

South African waters, once a rich hunting group for the king of the sharks, has been devoid of the predators in recent years.

Since 2018, False Bay in Cape Town has only had one great white sighting and it is though to be at least in part due to the increased presence of killer whales, which have been attacking the sharks.

For example, two weeks ago a great white carcass was found washed up on a South African beach with a deep gash between its two pectoral fins and its liver and heart missing, hallmarks of a killer whale hunt.

A pair of killer whales, known as Port and Starboard, are regulars in the area and may be keeping the sharks away, it is believed.

The footage will be broadcast on National Geographic Wild on July 17 as part of a documentary called Shark Vs Whale which forms part of the annual SharkFest.


Sharks are the most efficient predators on earth and have long terrified humans.

Their basic design has never really changed over the course of 200million years and they are considered to be complex and intelligent.

Their teeth are fear factor number one, with the great white’s teeth growing up to two-and-a-half inches in length.

Their prey are impaled on the pointed teeth of the lower jaw where they saw away sections of the flesh. The serrated edges of the teeth help with this process.

Their teeth are brittle and are constantly breaking off but are also constantly regrowing and on average there are 15 rows of teeth present in the mouth at one time.

Sharks are the most efficient predators on earth. Their basic design has never really changed over the course of 200million years

Sharks are the most efficient predators on earth. Their basic design has never really changed over the course of 200million years

Their speed is fear factor number two. 

They are very fast in the water compared to humans with the mako shark able to reach an incredible 60mph in bursts.

The great white can reach speeds of 25mph. 

By comparison, 5mph is the fastest a human being can reach.

A shark’s power and size terrifies us, too.   

The great white shark can grow up to 20 feet and while it has no particular taste for humans even an exploratory bite is enough to cut a man in half.

Most sharks release a human after its first bite but sometimes, that’s all it take to kill a person.   

However, sharks have far more reason to be afraid of humans. We kill up to a million of them a year, often just cutting off their fins to make into soup and throwing the rest of the shark back into the water, where it starves or drowns. 

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