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The deep sea’s silent killer

Predator of predators: the orcas reign of terror

By: Ewan Kellie


In a spine-chilling twist of nature's drama, the lifeless body of a great white shark, estimated to be about 3 meters long, has washed up on the shores of Portland, Victoria in Australia. This brutal discovery of a torn in half great white, has set the stage for a gripping mystery: Did killer whales, or orcas, declare open season on one of the ocean's most formidable apex predators?


Picture from pixabay


The ghastly find was made near Cape Bridgewater, west of Portland, as local residents stumbled upon the gruesome scene. Ben Johnstone, a fisherman and bait shop manager, was among the first to inspect the remains after receiving a tip-off. The apparent injuries to the shark raised suspicions that orcas were the culprits.


Adding weight to this theory, just two days prior to the discovery, a pod of killer whales had been spotted circling in the bay, observed by nature photographer Allen McCauley. "They are known in other parts of the world to attack, and they go for the livers," Mr. Johnstone remarked.


The enigmatic behavior of orcas as "picky eaters" continues to baffle marine experts. Flinders University trophic ecologist, Lauren Meyer, suggests that orcas often target the liver of white sharks, mako sharks, bronze whalers, sevengills, and even tiger sharks. They've also been observed to have a taste for the intestines of sunfish and dugong intestines.


While it's not entirely clear why killer whales display such selective dining habits, Dr. Meyer states that orcas' interactions with great white sharks have been reported nine times in Australia and New Zealand, with additional incidents documented in South Africa and the United States.


"I'm not surprised to see this in a place like Portland," she noted. "We know there are white sharks that go through that area and use it as an important corridor. We also know that it's a place for killer whales where they hunt a number of different prey items."


For Ben Johnstone, who has been fishing in the area for 15 years, the sight of a shark carcass washing ashore was unprecedented. He described it as "probably a once in a lifetime experience to see something like that," and noted that killer whales occasionally snatch tunas off anglers' lines, adding an extra layer of intrigue to the situation.


Images of the shark carcass posted on Mr. Johnstone's business' Facebook page elicited a wide range of reactions, from awe and amazement to a deep respect for the forces of nature.


This incident has prompted a deeper investigation into the interactions between sharks and killer whales. Flinders University researchers, alongside an international team, are working on creating a comprehensive database to better understand the global dynamics at play. Dr. Meyer emphasized the elusiveness of killer whales, noting that each pod and ecotype displays distinct behaviors, making it challenging to draw broad conclusions about these enigmatic creatures.


As the mystery surrounding this extraordinary encounter continues to unfold, it serves as a stark reminder that the vast, mysterious ocean is a stage for a never-ending drama where even the apex predators must contend with one another to secure their place at the top of the deep blue food chain


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