A team of researchers from South Africa observed for the first time how a single killer whale killed a great white shark in just two minutes. This demonstrated that killer whales do not need to hunt in packs to kill great white sharks, which are among the world’s largest predators.

Marine biologist Alison Towner from South Africa’s Rhodes University, who led the international team, described “groundbreaking discoveries” about the hunting behavior of killer whales.

Killer whales hunt in groups.

Killer whales, also known as orcas or killer whales, typically work in groups to hunt and kill great white sharks and other large prey. These include sea lions, seals, other types of sharks, and sometimes even whales. Killer whales can also hunt much of this prey on their own. However, no killer whale has ever been seen hunting a great white shark, whose fatty liver is a delicacy for them.

In June 2023, scientists first observed a killer whale hunting a juvenile two-and-a-half meter long great white shark off the coast of the small town of Mossel Bay in the Western Cape, then swimming past a boat with its liver in its mouth. “This sighting provided evidence of individual hunting by at least one killer whale, challenging traditional cooperative hunting behavior known in the region,” Towner said. The researchers presented their observations in the African Journal of Marine Science.

A pair of killer whales systematically exterminated great white sharks

A team led by Towner discovered as early as 2022 that a pair of killer whales were systematically killing white sharks in the Gansbaai coastal area. This place was considered one of the most legendary places in the world for watching white sharks. The results of this five-year study show that the attacks triggered a rapid and long-term mass movement of great white sharks. As a result, the number of sightings of great white sharks in the region has “dramatically decreased.”

The absence of white sharks is unprecedented in the region and is changing the marine ecosystem, Towner said in 2022. For example, fewer great white sharks have led to increased numbers of Cape fur seals. This has a negative impact on the endangered African penguins, which are hunted by seals. (dpa/iumum)

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