Orca’s Rapid Solo Kill: Scientists Warn of Potential Ecological Shift

A duo of orcas collaborating have been hunting and feeding on great white sharks along a section of South African coast since at least 2017, targeting their nutrient-rich livers and leaving the rest behind.

Researchers are working to understand the hunting behavior of sharks near Cape Town, which has caused them to avoid certain areas of the coast.

New research has uncovered a surprising development in their behavior that could provide insights into its impact on the marine ecosystem.

Last year, researchers observed one of the predators, a male orca named Starboard, swiftly taking down a 2.5-meter (8.2-foot) young white shark in just two minutes.

During my visits to South Africa over the past twenty years, I have witnessed the significant influence that killer whales have on the white shark population in the area.

“Witnessing Starboard transport a white shark’s liver past our boat is a moment I will never forget,” shared Dr. Primo Micarelli, a marine biologist at Italy’s Sharks Studies Centre and the University of Siena, who was on one of the two vessels where researchers witnessed the incident.

“I am in awe of these predators, but my concern for the balance of coastal marine ecology is growing,” stated Micarelli.

It’s not uncommon for orcas, highly intelligent and social creatures, to hunt large animals on their own.

It’s the first incident of its kind with one of the world’s largest predators, the great white shark, as detailed in a study published on Friday in the African Journal of Marine Science.

Orca Solo Kill Defies Group Hunting Norms: Study

orcas-rapid-solo-kill-scientists-warn-of-potential-ecological-shift
Newport Beach, CA – January 09: As the sunsets behind Catalina Island, an orca comes to the surface after swimming off the coast of Orange County on Tuesday, January 9, 2024.

 

The kill by Starboard goes against the typical cooperative hunting behavior seen among orcas, as explained by Alison Towner, a doctoral researcher at Rhodes University.

In previous instances, attacks on great whites were carried out by a group of two to six orcas and lasted for up to two hours, as per the study.

“This sighting unveiled evidence of solitary hunting by at least one killer whale, which goes against the usual cooperative hunting behaviors observed in the region,” mentioned Towner, a researcher with 17 years of experience studying great white sharks and understanding their movement patterns through tagging data, in a statement.

“These findings provide revolutionary insights into the predatory behavior of this species,” she exclaimed.

This discovery of shark-hunting killer whales may be linked to larger ecosystem patterns.

The fast-paced advancements in this phenomenon pose a challenge for the scientific community to stay up-to-date.

The incident described in the study occurred on June 18, 2023, 800 meters (875 yards) offshore near Seal Island close to Mossel Bay — approximately 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Cape Town — as individuals on two boats were watching the orcas.

 

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