Orcas killed a great white shark for its liver in Australia, scientists confirmed, leaving the sharks one less place to hide

  • A great white shark washed up on a beach in Australia completely disemboweled.

  • Scientists confirmed that it was killed by orcas, who hunted the great white for its liver.

  • The proof was in bite marks on the shark's body that were "just loaded with killer whale DNA."

In October, reports of a great white shark's mangled carcass washing ashore in a town in Victoria, Australia sparked suspicion.

The carcass was completely disemboweled and only its head and spine remained intact, according to photos that Portland Bait and Tackle posted on Facebook.

People speculated that the likely culprits were orcas, but a necropsy of the shark's body has confirmed it.

Bite marks near the shark's disfigured belly "are quite typical of killer whales where they effectively suck out the liver," Adam Miller, an associate professor in aquatic ecology and biodiversity at Victoria's Deakin University told ABC Radio Melbourne.

By swabbing the marks, "we were able to confirm that those bite wounds were just loaded with killer whale DNA, so it's a bit of a smoking gun, it's a really interesting story," Miller added.

Hunting great white sharks for their fatty liver

orca breaches water and sprays spout with baby orca jumping alongside
A female killer whale and her newborn calf in Grays Harbor near Westport, Washington.Candice Emmons/NOAA Fisheries/Reuters

For years, killer whales have haunted great whites off the coast of South Africa, feasting on their livers. Shark liver is a fatty organ and gives orcas the most "bang for their buck," one expert previously told Business Insider.

Rare footage featured on Discovery Channel's Shark Week in 2022 showed an orca carrying a great white shark in its mouth as blood stained the bright teal water in South Africa's Mossel Bay.

Killer whales have been known to suck the livers from other types of sharks, like blue and shortfin mako sharks, in Australia, per LiveScience.

However, orcas predating on great white sharks in this way, though suspected, had never been documented in Australia until now, Miller told ABC Radio Melbourne.

One less place great whites can hide from liver-seeking orcas

A collage with a photo of a killer whale and a great white shark.
Killer whales hunt great white sharks in waters across the world.[top] Kenneth C. Balcomb/Center for Whale Research, permit number: NMFS 21238; [bottom] Reuters

After years of washing up dead on South Africa's Bay and Gansbaai shores, great white sharks mysteriously disappeared from the region.

Scientists suggested that the remaining great whites fled east to protect themselves from orcas.

While Australia is an entirely different part of the world than South Africa, it's now one less place where great white sharks can hide from liver-seeking orcas.

It's unclear how orcas learned to extract liver from sharks or why killer whales appear to be such picky eaters.

However, one thing is known: orcas are highly intelligent and can teach each other new tricks. If one orca in Australia has figured out how to suck out the liver from great whites, chances are more orcas may figure it out soon enough.

"Killer whales are probably the top-order predator in the ocean and they're probably the only known predator of white sharks," Miller told ABC Radio Melbourne.

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