How did the Killer Whales outsmart the Great White Sharks?

  • Tuesday, 23 May 2017
  • linda

 orca 900 x 300

When three great white sharks mysteriously washed ashore along the coast in Gansbaai, South Africa, researchers weren't sure what to think. But after doing necropsies (animal autopsies) on all three sharks, the researchers identified a possible culprit.white bshark deceased orca

All of the sharks were missing their livers, and one was missing its heart. It's likely that an orca, also known as a killer whale, attacked the sharks and ate their organs.
The great white shark is one of the ocean's most powerful predators, yet it is sometimes prey for orcas that killed several of the formidable creatures off South Africa's coast this month.
white shark autopsyThe rare necropsies conducted on the three carcasses that washed ashore show how orcas dominate the marine food chain at the expense of great white sharks, whose ferocious reputation (thanks partly to the 1975 movie "Jaws") belies their vulnerability to shark nets, fishing, poaching, pollution—and the biggest member of the dolphin family. Orcas, which also face human threats, have a softer image (the 1993 film "Free Willy" helped) due to their intelligence and accessibility at water parks.

Ingrid Visser, who has studied killer whales for nearly 20 years, said orcas used their powerful tails to create strong underwater currents that forced the sharks to the surface, then stunned them. “Once the shark is at the surface, the killer whale pivots and lifts its tail out of the water and comes down on top of it like a karate chop,” she said. It is the buoyant livers that then cause the shark's body to rise to the surface.

white sharl autopsyWhat really shocked scientists was that the livers of all three sharks were removed, with surgical precision suggesting the orcas, also known as killer whales, targeted the nutrient-rich oil and fat in the organs and discarded the rest of their prey. Sharks have enormous livers (can weigh more than 60kg)  filled with fats that give the shark buoyancy.

"Bony fishes have a swim bladder that they can fill with gases, and those gases provide buoyancy for the fish," said Andrew Nosal, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Saint Katherine College in San Marcos, California, and a visiting assistant researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. (Nosal was not involved in the recent shark analyses.).

white shark 900 x 300

"Sharks do not have a swim bladder. Instead, they have a very large liver. In addition to being filled with fat, shark livers are "very energy- and nutrient-rich," Nosal said. It's unclear why orcas would go after the sharks' livers, but Nosal said he imagines "they have a high metabolism, and they have a lot of nutrient needs, and so those fats might really help them out."

orcas in gansbaaiAlison Towner, a marine biologist with the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, which seeks to protect the fragile ecosystem in waters around the southern tip of Africa said: They work together and are very co-ordinated. Two orcas take a pectoral fin in their mouth and pull open a shark together to extract the liver. Nature can be so cruel and the dexterity these enormous animals are capable of is mind blowing, almost surgical precision as they remove the squalene-rich liver of the white sharks and dump their carcas”

white shark autopsy. 3Each of the sharks had a big wound on its underside, a sign of the dexterity of the orca, whose biggest males can be well over nine meters (30 feet) long—considerably larger than great white sharks.

Even if they have an advantage, orcas are unlikely to hunt great white sharks on a regular basis, said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research. "But smaller sharks can be a routine part of an orca diet, and studies have shown that the rough texture of shark flesh grinds down the enamel on orca teeth over time," he said.
Orca Curved Dorsal FinKiller whales are apex predators and while we are accustomed to viewing great white sharks as occupying the top of the food chain in our waters, orcas are much more specialised hunters and consider almost anything in the ocean as potential prey," according to the South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs.
"The mammals have highly developed social groups as well as a large brain, the capacity to learn and the ability to locate with the help of sound waves that bounce off objects”

"Orcas are known to have culture, much like humans do, and different orca cultures specialise on different prey and different hunting strategies," said Dr Boris Worm, a marine research ecologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Killer whales Sandra"Offshore orcas are rare and very mobile, so it is very conceivable that they show up in an area where they were previously not seen and exploit sharks in that region," Worm wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Of course, a white shark would be a difficult prey to tackle due to its power and size, but orcas (again like humans) use group hunting strategies that can outsmart almost any prey."

"We, as shark biologists, recognise that the sharks are going to get eaten sometimes by predators, just like they eat things themselves," said Burgess, the Florida expert. "It's all part of the give-and-take of the natural world."

The Great White v the Killer Whale

The Killer Whale


Fast Facts:
Killer whales are the largest of the dolphins.The name Orca comes from the name Orcus, a Roman god of the underworld who tortured evil-doers in the afterlife.

Appearance: Large dorsal fin
Prominent white eye patch
Grey post dorsal-fin saddle
• Length: Males can reach 9.5m (31ft) females can reach up to 8.5m (28ft). Their tales can measure 2.75m (9ft) from tip to tip
Weight: On average they weigh up to six tonnes, but the heaviest recorded was a huge 10 tonnes - the equivalent of 120 men.
• Speed: Up to 30mph
Diet: Fish, mainly salmon, plus seals and sea lions, sharks and stingrays.
Deadliest feature: Killer whales hunt in groups of up to 40 and are smart enough to learn new ways of working together to take down their prey, allowing them to target almost any animal.
• In Antarctica, they have learned to make waves to wash seals off the ice into the water.
Most famous of species: Free Willy

The Great White Shark

soos soon shark


Length: The females are the biggest, growing up to 6m (20ft) long. Males can be up to 4m (12ft)
Weight: More than 2.25 tonnes - the equivalent of 30 men
Speed: 15mph
Diet: Mainly fish, but they also hunt dolphins, seals, sea lions and occasionally sea turtles.
Deadliest feature: Great whites ambush their prey and have more than 300 razor sharp teeth that grow up to 5.7cm long. They are angled into the mouth to grab prey and tear off chunks of flesh.
Most famous of species: Jaws





Orca Research Trust

Florida Program for Shark Research

Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Saint Katherine College in San Marcos

Live Science.

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