Orcas vs great white sharks In a battle of the apex predators who wins? When we think of the ocean’s top predators, most of us are probably going to picture sharks. More specifically, we’re probably picturing the massive great white shark. This shark, is considered the most voracious apex predator in temperate marine ecosystems worldwide, playing a key role in controlling ecosystem dynamics. The washed up, mutilated carcasses of great whites signal a startling trend in the hunting habits of one of the sea’s greatest predators: killer whales. Before we get into some examples, here’s what you need to know about our competitors: The legendary great white shark is a cartilaginous fish that has caused fear and admiration for many years. It is considered one of the biggest predators of the oceans and the fiercest, but there is more imagination than truth in this sentence. His reputation as a “man-eater” is also far from reality. Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. They’re immediately recognizable by their distinctive black-and-white coloring. Smart and social, orcas make a wide variety of communicative sounds, and each pod has distinctive noises that its members will recognize even at a distance. They use echolocation to communicate and hunt, making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape. SIZE The body of the white shark is robust and fusiform, about 4-7 meters in length but the average is 6 meters. Its weight is between 3,000 and 3,400 kilograms. Adult females reach dimensions greater than males, which are usually 2 meters smaller. Orcas weigh up to 5,443 kilograms and grow to 7 to 9.7 meters. That is almost as long as a school bus. The largest orca ever recorded was 9.8 m long, according to Sea World. DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT The White Shark it is commonly found on the coasts of North America in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Pacific. Outside of the American continent, the great white shark dwells mainly the waters of South Africa, the Mediterranean Sea, Japan, and Oceania. There is a substantial population in the Dyer Island in South Africa, and that is why there is a common place for research about their life. Their habitats include coasts and continental and insular platforms whose waters do not surpass 1,875 meters of depth. In the open ocean, it inhabits to depths of up to 1,200 meters. Killer whales are the most widely distributed mammals, other than humans, according to Sea World. They live in the oceans and seas surrounding most coastal countries. They adapt very well to any climate. For example, they can live in the warm waters near the equator or the icy waters of the North and South Pole regions. Orcas are more likely to be found at higher latitudes and near the shore, though. HUNTING AND DIET The diet of this shark species is, of course, carnivorous. However, it does not usually feed on large species, but on smaller animals such as squids, rays, and other fish. Adult individuals also include other sharks, seals, sea lions, dolphins and whale corpses. They sometimes catch turtles and seabirds to feed on them. They have a clear preference for fat-rich prey. They have different hunting strategies depending on the target victim and the size of the species. The most usual approach is that, once they detect by electroreception their possible food, they locate below and then stealthily swim vertically. Once closer, they inflict a deadly bite and wait for the animal to bleed and die and then eat it. If the prey survives that, they try to hold it with their lower teeth while the upper tear the tissues. Orcas are apex predators, at the top of the food chain. No other animals hunt orcas. Killer whales feed on sea birds, squid, octopuses, sea turtles, sharks, rays and fish. They also eat most marine mammals, such as seals and dugongs. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. Orcas use many different techniques to catch prey. Sometimes they beach themselves to catch seals on land, meaning they jump from the water onto land. Orcas will also work together to catch larger prey or groups of prey such as schools of fish. It’s difficult to imagine the voracious and predatory great white shark as prey. Could orcas really be overpowering them and removing their livers? In 2017, the bodies of five great white sharks washed up on the beaches of South Africa’s Western Cape province. The bodies ranged in size from 9 feet to 16 feet, but each had large sets of puncture marks near the pectoral fins. The murderer of these sharks knew exactly where to bite to get what they wanted: each of the sharks was missing their liver. Clearly, something even more formidable had been preying on them. Scientists determined then that only one other predator could pose such a danger to these killing machines, indeed the evidence was in their name: the killer whale. Orcas are also apex predators and they can rival even the great white for their brutal killing efficiency. Orca seems to have developed a way to take on the great white safely. In 1997, an orca was seen ramming into a great white shark off the coast of San Francisco. The force of the blow stunned the shark and gave the orca the opportunity to flip the great white over and hold it in that position. Sharks are susceptible to something called “tonic immobility.” When they are held upside down in the water, sharks become paralyzed because they require water to move across their gills while they swim in order to breathe. Thus, the orca was essentially able to drown the shark before feeding on it. Orcas are exceptionally intelligent animals and can even coordinate hunting behavior in packs like wolves. They’ve proven that they can easily disarm a great white in an attack. Why Killer Whales Attack Sharks? Those that say sharks are apex predators, that’s not the case. As hard as it is to say it, the killer whales are a step above. Large predators like the orca tend to go after prey animals that have a lot of rich blubber on their body, which means that most of the shark is unappealing as a meal. Certain parts of a shark, however, are appealing to killer whales. In each of the documented attacks, the orcas have made extremely precise bites on the sharks. Primarily, they target the livers, stomachs, and testes of the sharks. And this might actually explain what’s going on. Sharks’ livers have very high concentrations of oil and fats. They are also very large compared to other animals. This potentially makes a great white’s liver one of the best sources of quick energy in the ocean. Orcas seem to have learned this and are targeting sharks specifically for their nutrient-rich livers. There are documented accounts of killer whales targeting sharks that date back decades. It’s possible even that great whites may have been part of the killer whale’s diet well before then. But the rising frequency of the attacks is a new development. Some scientists suggest that the answer could be the changes in the relative ranges of the animals. Shark populations have been growing due to restrictions on fishing. Global warming is expanding the geographical areas these sharks can live in. So sharks and killer whales may simply be sharing the water in close proximity more often. More gravely, it could be that killer whales are running out of their usual source of nutrition and are instead turning to great whites as an alternative meal. The good news for sharks is that they seem to be learning to adjust to the threat. Sharks have been seen leaving areas when they know that there are killer whales nearby.