When it comes to being hunted most whale species have very few predators.
In fact humans are and have been considered to be the only primary predators to whales.
On occasion packs of killer whale or false killer whales (and in rare instances sharks) have also been found hunting and/or attacking whales, however due to the thick skin and massive size of many of the whale species its extremely difficult if not nearly impossible for most predators to successfully take these large whales down.
With that said smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises are at a higher risk of being successfully attacked by the predators mentioned above.
In order to give you a better understanding of the predators these marine mammals face we’ll go into more depth on each of these predators.
Here are the main predators that whales face in the ocean.
Humans have hunted whales for many millenia.
During the mid 17th – 20th centuries (the whaling era) large numbers of whales were being hunted for their raw materials.
Both their meat and blubber were used to make oil (margarine and transmission oil) , food, clothing (corsets and umbrellas) and various other goods which were in high demand and were being supplied from the body parts of whales.
As technology increased during this period so did the number of whales being killed.
By the mid 20th century numerous whale species had become endangered and some species became nearly extinct.
Due to the combination of alternative resources and the creation of new policies and regulations many species have begun to recover from the endangered list although there are some species which may not be able to make a full recovery and may eventually become extinct.
Nowadays technology, pollution, over-fishing and global warming are playing a bigger role in the endangerment of whales.
Whales looking for food or swimming too close to the coast line can become accidentally caught up in fishing nets and other equipment.
In highly commercialized areas certain whale species may face direct competition from fishermen for resources and food as fishing companies reduce the amount of available fish in the local habitat.
Sounds created by sonar, large boat engines, jets and many other man-made ambient noises can cause confusion among whales trying to navigate the ocean using echolocation and in some cases these noises may even cause permanent damage to the whales hearing or possibly cause whales to beach themselves.
Chemical pollution from garbage and oil spills have been known to have a great impact on the health and lifespan of whales in the surrounding areas as this sort of pollution can either affect them directly or through their diet by contaminating the foods they eat.
In polar climates global warming is beginning to affect the ice caps which in turn affects the natural habitat of whales living in that climate and their food supply.
As you can see even though the whaling era has ceased there a numerous environmental and commercial concerns affecting the diets, lifestyle, habitat and mental state of whales.
In addition to this some whale species are still being hunted by humans despite laws, rules and regulations put into place to stop these types of activities.
Due to the declining interest in the use of whale oil some companies continue to hunt them for their meat so that it can be sold to stores willing to sell them to people who are interested in consuming whale meat.
Killer whales are known as apex predators.
Lacking any natural predators of their own these dolphins are able to freely hunt their prey without fear of being hunted or attacked themselves.
In addition to being apex predators this species is also extremely social with other members in their pod and are very family oriented and well-coordinated.
They can often be seen traveling in large pods or packs when socializing or hunting for food and are sometimes referred to as the wolves of the sea.
On rare occasions packs of killer whales may be seen attacking even the largest whales, however due to the massive size of some whale species killer whales may have a hard time taking them down and in many cases are unsuccessful.
In most cases large whales are able to survive the attack with only some bruises, scars, and cuts.
Smaller species of whale and baby whales however make easier targets for killer whales.
In some instances either one or several killer whales may try to distract the mother and/or a group of whales while another group of killer whales lures out the baby whale so that they can successfully attack it.
In other situations killer whales may choose to stick to smaller whale species or hunt dolphins which are naturally smaller and less able to defend themselves.
Depending on the type of prey a killer whale is tracking the hunting methods it uses can vary drastically.
Killer whales are known to use luring techniques to separate a particular prey from its group, leap onto icebergs and sand dunes to capture food, surround its target and take turns chasing their prey to wear out while conserving their own energy and sneaking up or flipping their target over to immobilize it before trying to bite or eat it.
False killer whales
While little is known about the false killer whales hunting methods and particular diet when it comes to marine mammals they have been observed hunting and attacking other cetaceans and may also attempt to attack small whales.
Numerous cases of these marine mammals attacking dolphins has been observed so it is possible that they may be able to successfully attack certain species of whale.
Note: Despite have a name very similar to the killer whale the false killer whale is a very different species and isn’t closely related to the killer whale.
While not much is known or recorded about sharks hunting and/or attacking whales these attacks do happen.
In fact these attacks occur so rarely that sharks aren’t really considered main predators to whales.
With that said shark attacks generally occur against smaller whales or baby whales as they are often easier prey to attack.
Sharks have also been observed attacking dolphins and their babies as they make easier targets when compared to the larger whale species.