Solo whale kills great white shark

For the first time ever, scientists witnessed a lone killer whale kill a great white shark off the coast of South Africa, further cementing the mammal’s reputation as the ocean’s largest predator and raising concerns about their impact on the ocean. ecosystem of the area.

Researchers and tourists in Mossel Bay last June witnessed a killer whale named Starboard hunting an 8-foot-long great white shark, grabbing it by the pectoral fin and eventually disemboweling it, according to a study published this month in the African Journal of Marine Science was published. . Scientists in a second ship filmed the episode from a shark cage submerged in the water, capturing the whale “with a bloody piece of peach-colored liver in its mouth.”

Dr. Alison Towner, a shark researcher at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, is the lead author of the study. She and her colleagues have been researching the interactions between orcas and sharks in the region for years.

While researchers have recorded killer whales in the area killing sharks in coordinated group attacks, “predation on a white shark by a lone killer whale has not been documented” before the June 2023 incident, the study said. “All other documented predation by killer whales on sharks in the region involved two to six individuals.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, killer whales can be found in every ocean, from the cold waters off Antarctica and Alaska to the coasts of northern South America and Africa. They are highly social mammals and spend the vast majority of their lives in groups called pods, which can range from just a few whales to more than twenty.

Except when forced to forage, the apex predators typically hunt in groups and work as a team to capture prey, which is notable about the observed incident, experts say. Towner, the study’s lead author, said in a statement that the sighting was groundbreaking because it challenges conventional hunting behavior in the region.

“The astonishing predation represents unprecedented behavior that highlights the orca’s exceptional skill,” she said.

The day after scientists witnessed the rare attack, a second white shark carcass washed up at Mossell Bay, according to the study. The recent incidents build on previous research that these killer whales primarily target the livers of white sharks and discard the rest of the carcass.

Multiple groups of killer whales or killer whales attacked two adult gray whales in Monterey Bay, California.

Josh McInnes, a killer whale researcher at the University of British Columbia, told USA TODAY that the incident shows that not only do killer whales compete with white sharks for seals in the waters off South Africa, but that the mammals have a niche taste can develop and operate independently. overpower white sharks.

“This is a pretty rare situation,” he said. “We don’t often see orcas interacting with other large predators like white sharks.”

While more research is still needed on the topic, McInnes and other experts are concerned that killer whales could drive sharks out of South African waters as they have done in other regions.

“The study raises critical questions about the impact of orca predation on shark populations in South Africa,” Towner said. “The movement of several shark species due to the presence of killer whales could impact… changes in the marine ecosystem.”

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