11 sharks wash up on South African beach, researchers say. Their livers were missing

Eleven sharks washed up dead on a South African beach, their bodies mostly intact but their livers taken, according to researchers.

These are some, but not all, of the recent kills made by a pair of orcas known for their prolific hunting and their particular taste for a specific organ.

Port and Starboard — male killer whales named for their collapsed dorsal fins that err right on one and left on the other — recently outdid themselves, Marine Dynamics Academy said in a Feb. 23 Facebook post.

The orcas, Port and Starboard, photographed by researchers in South Africa.

The orcas, Port and Starboard, photographed by researchers in South Africa.

Researchers aboard a Marine Dynamics vessel tracking the orcas witnessed the duo kill 17 sharks in a matter of hours, in waters near the coastal town of Gansbaai, the post said.

“We observed the two orcas repeatedly diving down in a small area for almost two hours before they departed offshore,” Ralph Watson, of Marine Dynamics, said.

Several days later, they found the bodies of broadnose sevengill sharks strewn across Pearly Beach, flesh missing where the liver resides.

“Each sevengill shark was torn open and missing its liver,” said Alison Towner, a Rhodes University researcher collaborating with Marine Dynamics. The sharks were all female and bore similar wounds to other sharks previously killed by Port and Starboard, Towner added.

Orcas are regarded as clever and their hunting techniques demonstrate that well, using teamwork and strategy to take down larger or more numerous animals. Port and Starboard are no exception.

Even the iconic great white shark is prey to the pair. So much so that the great white shark population has dwindled in the waters near Gansbaai as they fled to safer ecosystems, according to a 2021 study led by Towner.

“Predator-prey interactions between white sharks, other coastal sharks, and killer whales are increasing in South Africa and are expected to have pronounced impacts on the ecosystem,” the study said.

But even in light of Port and Starboard’s history, this most recent hunt is remarkable for its relentlessness, according to researchers.

“This is the largest amount of sharks these orcas have killed in this area in one sitting,” Towner said.

Researchers didn’t say why the orcas killed so many sharks. Or why they were interested in eating their livers specifically, though the organ is nutritious.

“The liver of sharks is rich in nutrients and oil, and makes up a large proportion of the shark’s anatomy. It would make sense for killer whales to feed on this organ,” Josh McInnes, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, told CBC news in 2022.

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