Great White Sharks ‘Ripped Open’ And Eaten By Killer Whales In South Africa

by : Julia Banim on : 19 Sep 2020 13:14
Great White Sharks 'Ripped Open' And Eaten By Killer Whales In South AfricaPA Images/Shutterstock

Killer whales that ‘ripped open’ six great white sharks off the coast of South Africa to feast on their livers reportedly also devoured two shark hearts and the testes of one of the males.

Marine biologist Alison Towner, who helped perform post-mortem autopsies on the sharks, found that the whales had ripped the majority of the sharks’ skins from just below the throat, creating a cavity from which the liver – a highly nutritious meal – could be easily slipped out.


According to Towner, this was done in a ‘precise and refined’ way, demonstrating the clever hunting strategies that are passed down from generation to generation of orca.

killer whalesNeedpix.com

While appearing on YouTube channel Shark Talk, Towner, who specialises in great white sharks, discussed the ‘shocking discovery’ of the carcasses, which had been washed up on Gansbaai shores with the ‘hallmarks of orca predation’.

Speaking with Shark Talk host Gemma Care, Towner explained that great white sharks are generally not known for washing up dead following attacks, and so there are rarely any carcasses available for scientific study.


Towner said:

It was really just shock and disbelief when we heard there’s another large, virtually adult white shark on the beach with its liver ripped out.

You can watch the interview for yourself below:


The first shark examined by Towner and the team still had its liver intact, but was found to be covered with telling razor marks.

This first examination took place the very next day after two killer whales had been in the area, and at that point nobody was willing to confirm whether or not they were indeed looking at an orca attack.

Shark expert Malcolm Smale was called in as a consultant on the next case, and very soon the link was made with the killer whales. This was later confirmed by a New Zealand-based orca expert.

Towner told Care:


These injuries on the great whites were identical to those on the sevengills in False Bay in that the animals were physically ripped open.

Just under the surface of the skin is the perfect place to open up the shark and access and extract the liver. I think two of the animals had both the heart removed and one male had his testes removed. Because they’re very close there in the body cavity.

We think the two killer whales were learning to get hold of the pectoral fins. We don’t know for sure. It’s like a ripping motion. The liver… it’s oily, very slippery, it would naturally slide out so they could come along and share it.

Great White SharkWikimedia Commons

The autopsies reportedly took the team hours to perform, with measurements being taken from each part of the shark. The team had to establish that the death had not been due to other factors, including boat injuries and fishing lines.

However, as explained by Towner, ‘when the animal is lying there with its 60 kilo liver ripped out, it’s pretty obvious’.


You can catch more episodes of Shark Talk here.

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Animals, Great white sharks, Now, South Africa