A great white shark carcass that washed up near Portland, Australia, in October was killed and eaten by orcas, according to researchers who studied the fish’s remains.
The 16-foot shark was missing its midriff—a telltale sign that orcas were involved in its demise. But recent analysis of the carcass confirmed that orcas, also known as killer whales, were the culprits.
Great white sharks (Carcharadon carcharias) are some of the most fearsome predators in the world’s oceans. The sharks can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh as much as 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms), and have hundreds of pointy, serrated teeth for slicing into prey. But the sharks have met their match in orcas (Orcinus orca), which can grow to be over 30 feet (9.1 meters) long and weigh a staggering 22,000 pounds (9,979 kg), according to Whale & Dolphin Conservation US.
Orcas have a predatory predilection for great whites; the shark’s livers are rich in nutrients, making them a delicacy for the orcas. Since 2017, two orcas named Port and Starboard have been responsible for the deaths of at least eight of the sharks that washed up on the beaches of South Africa (seven of which were missing their livers), and video footage captured in May 2022 even shows a pod of the killer whales hunting and killing the sharks. Besides white shark livers, orcas also appear to like penguin breast meat and sunfish intestines, one researcher told Scientific American.
Adam Miller, an aquatic ecologist at Deakin University in Australia, told ABC Radio Melbourne that the bite meres were “quite typical of killer whales and the sharks’ wounds were “loaded with killer whale DNA.”
Miller added that a pod of orcas were seen in nearby waters in the days preceding the attack, including three named males: Bent, Tip, and Ripple.
Orca whales are not just fearsome predators. They are intelligent animals with a complex, typically matriarchal social structure. In March, a team of researchers reported seeing a pod of orcas traveling with a pilot whale calf; it was unclear whether the orcas had adopted or kidnapped the calf.
But great whites aren’t their only enemy. The killer whales are also attacking boats off Europe and increasingly popping up in waters they don’t typically visit, like off the coasts of Martha’s Vineyard and Provincetown, Massachusetts. As previously reported by Gizmodo, the aggression towards human vessels may be a behavior learned from a single female orca named White Gladis.
Researchers studying Port and Starboard, the orcas predating on sharks off South Africa, speculated that one of the whales may have been teaching the others how to hunt the great whites most effectively.
How the orcas learned to target the sharks’ livers is not clear, but one thing is: the killer whales have learned to target white sharks’ livers with clinical precision and are leaving the rest of the gutted sharks for the birds.
More: Gnarly Video Shows Orcas Killing Great White Shark
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