Lone orca kills great white shark in 'unprecedented' attack

It took just two minutes for the orca to turn the great white shark from predator into prey. Sam Holder has more

A lone orca, or killer whale, has been caught on film hunting and killing a great white shark in an "astonishing" and "unprecedented" attack.

It is not unheard of for groups of killer whales to attack great white sharks, but this is the first recorded instance of an orca hunting a great white on its own.

Two orcas that scientists have been monitoring since 2017 along South Africa's coastline have been plundering sharks' nutrient-rich livers and discarding the rest.

Wildlife experts have been trying to make sense of the hunting plan, which has driven sharks away from some parts of the coast near Cape Town.

Research is hoping to get to the bottom of the twist in the killer whale's behaviour - which could reveal what it means for the wider marine ecosystem.

Speaking to ITV News, Dr Alison Towner, who led the research, said that Starboard surfaced with the 'liver in his mouth almost like a prize'

Scientists witnessed one of the hunters, a male orca known as Starboard, single-handedly kill a 2.5-meter (8.2-foot) juvenile white shark within a two-minute time frame last year.

In a statement given to CNN, Dr Primo Micarelli, a marine biologist at Italy’s Sharks Studies Centre and the University of Siena said: "Over two decades of annual visits to South Africa, I’ve observed the profound impact these killer whales have on the local white shark population. Seeing Starboard carry a white shark’s liver past our vessel is unforgettable.

“Despite my awe for these predators, I’m increasingly concerned about the coastal marine ecology balance.”

A second great white shark carcass washes ashore in June near Hartenbos, South Africa. Credit: CNN via Christiaan Stopforth/Drone Fanatics SA.

Previously observed attacks on great whites involved between two and six orcas and took up to two hours, according to the study.

The orca's behaviour is at odds with more widely observed group hunting displays, where killer whales surround large prey and use their strength and smarts to kill them.

“The observations reported here add more layers to the fascinating story of these two killer whales and their capabilities,” Dr Simon Elwen, founding director and principal scientist at Sea Search Research & Conservation and a researcher at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said in a statement.

“As smart, top predators, killer whales can rapidly learn new hunting techniques on their own or from others, so monitoring and understanding the behaviors used here and by other killer whales in South Africa is an important part of helping us understand more about these animals,” added Elwen, who wasn’t involved in the research.

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