We all think that great white sharks are the most fierce predator in the ocean, but recently, increasing numbers of these beasts have been washing up on shores in South Africa. The sharks have been hunted by what appears to be a much more aggressive predator, leaving everyone baffled and scared to enter the water.
Five great whites have washed ashore, which may not seem like a drastic number but considering that up until now these giants were known as the top dog of the ocean, it’s shocking. Up until now, they’ve been the top predator which is why we rarely see them hunted. Not to mention, all of the carcasses were found with similar wounds.
Great white sharks are closely watched and tracked by scientists as they continue to learn more about this interesting species every year. Some of them they recognized from previous spottings, but none of them were tagged. Not much is known about their social behaviors, but it’s estimated that they live up to 30 years on average, so they were eager to figure out more about these specific sharks.
If anything is going to wash ashore, it’s usually a giant whale. Whale carcasses wash up on shore for various reasons, usually, they get lost and beached as a result, or they’ve consumed too much plastic and cannot sustain life. Either way, it’s not usually a killer shark that ends up falling victim to nature.
If the great white is no longer the most aggressive predator in the ocean, then what is?
In the town of Gansbaai, South Africa, local cage divers started noticing the bodies wash up on their beach, trickling in day by day. When they saw the wounds they thought they had a pretty good idea of who the killers were, but when they found out the reason for the murder without consumption, it gave everyone the creeps.
Each shark had a hole from their pectoral fin down to their liver and was, for the most part, still intact. Usually, an animal will hunt to eat and thus consume the entire carcass, so finding animals with wounds like this was startling. They were concerned about the number of sharks being killed because these were the shark’s tourist paid to see.
A Violent Predator
However, when they looked into the type of wound, they realized there was an animal notorious for inflicting them, and multiple had been seen swimming in the area. When scientists started flocking to the beach, they knew something strange had occurred.
Certain species of orca whales–or better known and killer whales–have been known to kill specific prey for their livers. But none have ever been recorded in South Africa killing a shark this size. It’s already baffling that these animals have adapted the ability to cut and extract with such precision, and now they are broadening their menus.
Once they remove the liver, they simply toss the rest of the body, letting it sink to the ocean floor. So does this make the killer whale the top ocean predator?
Orcas target rays, smaller whales, and sharks because they have oil-rich livers, which provide key nutrients for survival. What’s baffling, is how they managed to take down a great white, and not once, but five times. One of which was 16 feet long!
Scientists confirmed via autopsy that orcas were the ones to blame for these killings, commenting on blogs on sharkwatch.com: “Obviously, this is a very sad time for us all, 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 carcass.”
What’s even more insane is that bodies continue to wash ashore with the same injuries in California and New Zealand. It’s still baffling how these whales can kill such a fierce predator, but scientists think they have the answer.
Sharks have an unfortunate reflex called tonic immobility. It causes them to go in a trance-like state similar to hypnosis. When they’re in this state, they are extremely vulnerable and this is when they are attacked.
Rays also have the same reflex, and both animals can be induced into such a state by stimulating a sensory pore on their snout. Are orcas really smart enough to put a shark to sleep then surgically remove their liver? The more we learn about these dark creatures, the creepier they get.
No Sharks Around
It looks like the sharks are catching on, as the cage divers experience zero sightings for weeks after these attacks, making it hard for business. It’s hard to say whether this is going to become a long-lasting trend, or something that dwindles out.