Killer whales hunt great white sharks all the time for their liver. 2 particular whales are famous for organizing kills.

People inspect the carcass of a great white shark.

People inspect the carcass of a great white shark.Cari Roets/Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Conservation Trust

  • A viral video showed two whales killing great white sharks by removing their livers.

  • The whales, named Port and Starboard, are well known to scientists, an expert said.

  • They and other killer whales have long hunted sharks for their organs, he said.

Footage of killer whales killing a great white shark by crushing its liver has recently taken the internet by storm.

But while the video — released before a Discovery+ documentary — showed such a hunt in detail, an expert told Insider it wasn’t unusual.

Indeed, in South African waters, the strategy is so common that two particular killer whales have gained a reputation for organizing groups of orcas to band together and hunt great whites.

Two male killer whales, named Port and Starboard, are likely responsible, said Michael Weiss, Director of Research at the Center for Whale Research.

Evidence of their efforts is a series of shark carcasses that wash up without livers, after being attacked by killer whales with surgical precision.

Orcas (Southern Resident Killer Whales) in the Pacific Northwest.

Orcas (Southern Resident Killer Whales) in the Pacific Northwest.Monika Wieland Shields/Shutterstock

Surgical strikes to target fatty organs

According to Weiss, livers are a prime target for orcas because they are fatty and give a good amount of energy in return for the effort required to hunt them.

“Shark livers are extremely fatty, so there are a lot of calories,” he said.

There have been several reports documenting this behavior, for example near the Farallon Islands in northern California. And there the killer whales attacked the livers of the sharks.

Previous footage showed killer whales being able to tear the sharks apart by pulling the fins around their stomachs, according to an article in the African Journal of Marine Science, which focused on sightings around South Africa.

“Their tongue and mouth are pretty dexterous, despite how big they are. They can do pretty wild things,” Weiss said.

The carcass of a great white shark.

A researcher inspects the carcass of a great white shark.Cari Roets/Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Conservation Trust:

Port and Starboard, the celebrity shark kills

Two of the killer whales in the video are known to scientists as Port and Starboard, following the slope of their dorsal fins.

“They were kind of minor celebrities,” Weiss said.

The couple have their own Wikipedia page. Since they began hunting in South African bays off the coast of South Africa, sightings of white sharks have increased from about 200 a year to about zero, the Guardian reported in 2020.

Weiss said this was not because they killed every shark, but because the sharks began to avoid the area.

It’s not clear how sharks learned to avoid orcas. Sharks have limited social interaction and are unlikely to have learned from each other, Weiss said.

“I thought it would probably be a scent. You smell a dead shark in the water,” he said.

What is clear is that this has had a negative impact on the environment. Academic work showed that another species, the bronze whale shark, had dominated instead.

“The ability of two animals to reshape an ecosystem is absolutely fascinating,” Weiss said.

An orca jumps into a blue whale's mouth to eat its tongue.

An orca jumps into a blue whale’s mouth to eat its tongue.John Daw / Australian Wildlife Journeys

Treat hunt

Weiss explains that it is not unusual for killer whales to focus on one organ and leave the rest.

Footage shows them eating the lips and tongues of other whales they have just killed and leaving the rest. Weiss says he has also seen whales “extracting fetuses from pregnant porpoises whole.”

“That’s where they get the biggest bang for their buck in terms of soft, easily accessible tissue,” he said.

“You have a limited amount of time to eat this thing. It’s going to start sinking, the scavengers are going to start showing up,” he said.

Weiss said sharks may be able to locate the most attractive instruments using their sonar.

“The killer whales that I study, we think are able to use sonar to distinguish between different salmon species by detecting the size and position of the swim bladder,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened” with sharks, he said.

Killer men with peculiar skills

Port and Starboard are both male. They like to hunt together, a rare occurrence in the world of killer whales.

“Killer whales in most populations are quite matrilineal. Offspring stay with their mom for most or all of their lives,” Weiss said.

Weiss says it’s not clear where they could have detected the behavior. Some whales specialize in hunting sharks, but the other orcas in the area do not seem to have learned this behavior.

“Most foraging strategies are passed down from mother to offspring,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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