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NAT GEO * Single orca seen killing great white shark for first time ever *

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NAT GEO * Single orca seen killing great white shark for first time ever * Empty NAT GEO * Single orca seen killing great white shark for first time ever *

Post by Paul Thu 07 Mar 2024, 2:12 pm

A South African killer whale already famous for surgically extracting shark livers has a new trick up its sleeve—but it could harm shark populations.



NAT GEO * Single orca seen killing great white shark for first time ever * Starboard_3x2

Starboard, one of the two male orcas known for hunting great white sharks, swims through Mossel Bay in 2023.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAAN STOPFORTH

ByJessica Taylor Price
Photographs ByChristiaan Stopforth
March 01, 2024







An orca already famous for surgically extracting shark livers has a new trick up its sleeve: Killing one of nature’s most deadly predators all by himself. 
It’s the first time scientists have documented an orca taking down a great white shark solo. Starboard typically hunts alongside his relative, Port, near Cape Town, South Africa.

NAT GEO * Single orca seen killing great white shark for first time ever * 101A9178_3x4



A great white shark killed by orcas lies on Mossel Bay Beach on August 18, 2023. Port and Starboard only consume...
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PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAAN STOPFORTH

The new footage, taken in June 2023 in Mossel Bay, shows Starboard killing a juvenile, eight-foot-long great white shark and removing its liver—all in under two minutes. The orca then parades past the videographer's boat with the bloody liver in its mouth. 
Orcas are known for working together to hunt even the largest prey, making Starboard’s behavior a marked departure, says Alison Towner, a shark expert at Rhodes University who led a new study in the journal African Journal of Marine Science
"Starboard's predation strategy here really surprised us," says Towner. "Previously, we observed him hunting near others, noting teamwork in securing white sharks and accessing their livers." (See 13 of Nat Geo’s favorite photos of orcas.)

Named for their bent dorsal fins—Port's bends left and Starboard's bends right—the duo, likely brothers, have dispatched sevengill and great white sharks in the area since 2015 with a special technique: Tearing the fish’s pectoral girdle and carefully removing the calorie-rich liver, leaving the rest of the carcass intact. 
During the recent incident, Port was spotted nearby but kept his distance. Does this mean the siblings are learning to work alone?
It’s hard to say, there’s no doubt "Starboard's technique showcases the killer whale's power and experience," says Towner.

Solo sensation


Orcas, which live worldwide, are notably flexible and creative in their strategies to take down diverse prey, including sharks, fish, and marine mammals, Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, says by email.
For instance, to subdue larger prey, such as whales, some orcas may hunt in wolf-like packs.

Pack hunting has earned orcas plenty of attention in recent years. One Antarctic population engages in wave washing, during which the predators work together to make waves that push prey animals off ice floes. In Russia in 2017, orcas teamed up to take down a bowhead whale. And in Australia in recent years, scientists have witnessed groups of at least 12 orcas killing blue whales, the largest animal on the planet.

But orcas do hunt alone, too. Orcas off North America’s western coast “work mostly alone, but they stay together in a group for many other reasons and also often share the prey, the salmon, when one individual has caught one," says Hanne Strager, biologist and author of The Killer Whale Journals: Our Love and Fear of Orcas
But solo hunting of larger species poses greater risks. "Single killer whales are rare, and probably because cooperative hunting allows them to hunt more efficiently and to take a much broader size-range of prey," says Pitman. They’ll also work alone if they suspect the animal is vulnerable, such as being sick or young, as the great white was. (See how orcas work together to whip up a meal.)
Regarding Starboard's remarkable achievement, "I'm not surprised, to be honest," says Simon Elwen, a killer whale researcher and director of the Cape Town-based nonprofit Sea Search. 
Since male killer whales are often about 13,000 pounds and the great white was about 220 pounds, “it's still a pretty one-sided fight," Elwen says.

NAT GEO * Single orca seen killing great white shark for first time ever * IMG_2677_4x3



Port and Starboard (swimming in Mossel Bay in 2023) may be showing other orcas how to extract shark livers, some experts theorize.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAAN STOPFORTH


Bad news for sharks


But Starboard's new trick may have negative consequences for the region's sharks: Sevengill and great white sharks have largely abandoned South Africa’s southwestern coast in recent years.
After Starboard's June 2023 kill, Towner says, great white sharks left the area for about four months, then returned in smaller numbers. She's seen similar behavior after previous orca attacks. 
Unregulated overfishing poses a much greater threat to shark populations than Port and Starboard, Towner acknowledges, but orcas have added pressure to fish species already in trouble.
The absence of sevengills and great whites, apex predators, may have a ripple effect throughout coastal South Africa, she adds. For instance, it’s possible prey species, such as seals and fish, may increase in number. Other shark species, such as the copper shark, are already moving in to occupy the top spot, according to her research. (Read how reef sharks are in major decline worldwide.)
The orca team's "significant impact [on shark populations] shouldn't be overlooked.”

Meanwhile, Towner continues to be fascinated by the brothers and their confidence, such as Starboard’s liver-waving “victory lap.” 
"Why not be a little dramatic and enjoy your kill when you are this efficient as a predator, right?"
Paul
Paul
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