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Orca Whale Spotted Killing Great White Shark in Under 2 Minutes in 'Unprecedented' Attack

Scientists say the implications of a killer whale hunting solo, rather than in a group, could be huge for the local ecosystem

<p>Getty (2)</p> Stock photos of an orca whale (left) and a great white shark (right)

Getty (2)

Stock photos of an orca whale (left) and a great white shark (right)
  • Since at least 2017, scientists have observed two killer whales living near South Africa team up to attack and kill great white sharks

  • In a recent article, scientists shared that they recently observed one of the orca whales in the shark-hunting pair kill a great white shark by itself in less than 2 minutes

  • Experts believe this new hunting tactic could be a response to climate change and may have an impact on other ocean species

Scientists have observed an orca whale killing a great white shark alone off the coast of South Africa, and the attack could offer insights into how the whale species' hunting tactics have changed.


Since at least 2017, a pair of orcas in the waters around South Africa have been killing great white sharks for their livers — a nutrient-dense meal for the whales — and leaving the rest of the sharks' bodies behind. The hunting tactic has been driving sharks away from the coastal waters around Cape Town, according to scientists studying the shark-hunting duo.

But this solo orca attack, observed by scientists in June 2023 and featured in an African Journal of Marine Science article published in March, showed one of the orcas killing an 8.2-foot-long shark by itself in under two minutes. According to one of the biologists who observed it, the ferocity of the attack was "unprecedented" and "astonishing."

Related: Humpback Whale Jumps Out of Water Next to Tour Boat and Waves at Stunned Onlookers

Speaking with BBC, Rhodes University shark biologist Dr. Alison Towner told the outlet that the male orca, nicknamed Starboard, grabbed the young great white by its fin and "thrust forward several times before eventually eviscerating it" to get at its liver.

A newly released video of the attack shows Starboard quickly killing the shark before swimming away with the nutrient-rich liver in his mouth, passing by a nearby boat full of tourists.

According to the recent article about the shocking killer whale attack, this is the first widely observed occurrence of an orca hunting and killing a great white shark by itself.

This occurrence also challenges existing theories about the hunting strategies of killer whales, as previous research led scientists to believe that orcas primarily hunt in groups rather than by themselves. Previous killer whale attacks on the sharks involved multiple orcas — including Starboard’s partner, another male named Port — and took up to two hours, the researchers wrote.

Related: Two Humpback Whales Were Photographed Having Sex for the First Time in History — and They Were Both Male

Dr. Luke Rendell, another scientist from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, told BBC that it was "unsurprising" that whales had learned to target great white sharks, as orcas may be facing challenges finding food due to issues like climate change and other human-led changes in their ecosystem.

"A great white shark is a nice, big concentration of food, so it's perhaps unsurprising that some populations [of orcas], where these sharks occur in sufficient numbers, have learned to exploit that," he said.

"Human activities, like climate change and industrial fishing, are exerting significant pressures on our oceans," Towner added.

Related: Killer Whales Sink Boat Off Morocco in 45-Minute Attack: 'Love of the Sea Always Wins'

The scientists behind the recent article on the solo killer whale attack first reported their findings about Port and Starboard in 2022. They wrote in the African Journal of Marine Science that they had traced at least 8 great white shark killings back to the pair. According to the researchers, several sharks had their hearts and livers removed.

Dr. Primo Micarelli, a biologist at Italy's Sharks Studies Centre and the University of Siena, told CNN in a statement that while seeing such a powerful attack was "unforgettable," he also worries about the ecological implications it has for both orcas and great white sharks.

"Despite my awe for these predators, I'm increasingly concerned about the coastal marine ecology balance," Micarelli told the outlet.

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Orcas are the great white shark's only predator, aside from humans. Killer whales grow up to 30 feet in length and can weigh more than six tons, while great white sharks can reach up to 22 feet long and weigh around 2.5 tons.

Towner told BBC that the orcas' new hunting habits could impact other species, such as African penguins, which could face more danger from cape fur seals — as great white sharks usually hunt the seals.

"These are groundbreaking insights into the predatory behavior of this species," Towner told CNN. "The presence of these shark-hunting killer whales possibly ties into broader ecosystem dynamics. Rapid developments in this phenomenon make it challenging for science to keep pace."

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Read the original article on People.