Two orcas attacked a staggering 17 sharks off the coast of South Africa in a single day, eating only their livers before leaving them to die in their most brutal killing spree to date.
That’s right, this wasn’t the first time. On the contrary, Port and Starboard, the bloodthirsty male killer whales, are well known to scientists. The pair have been terrorizing sharks off the South African coast for decades.
On February 24, scientists spotted Port and Starboard near the shore of Pearly Beach, the orcas repeatedly diving down in a single spot in the ocean. They continued this strange ritual for two hours before swimming off in search of deeper waters.
A few days later, the corpses of 11 broadnose sevengill sharks washed ashore on Pearly Beach. Scientists later confirmed 17 sharks in total fell victim to the ferocious orcas. The whales ripped each shark open in turn, devouring their livers before leaving them to die painfully from their gruesome injuries.
Now, researcher Alison Towner is leading the charge in an investigation into why the orcas targeted the sharks for their macabre meal. The scientist is performing necropsies (examinations after death) on the sharks to learn more about the whales’ brutal actions.
In a past interview with the Smithsonian, Towner posed a theory explaining the attacks. Sharks’ livers are large – so large that they account for around a third of the animal’s total weight. The massive organs are both rich in fat and nutrient-dense, making them the perfect snack for killer whales.
Liver-Eating Orcas Regularly Attack Great White Sharks
Every single broadnose sevengill shark that washed ashore was a female measuring 5 to 7 feet in length. They each sported the same grisly injury as the great white sharks that fell victim to the orcas in the southwest of South Africa.
The only difference is that the orcas don’t usually attack so many at once. This attack marked the largest amount of sharks the orcas killed in a single spree, Towner explained. The 17 confirmed deaths might not even cover the full extent of the killings.
Though they’ve been tormenting South Africa’s shark population for decades, Port and Starboard gained widespread attention for the first time in 2015. In this instance, scuba divers discovered the carcasses of several broadnose sevengill sharks near Pearly Beach.
Port and Starboard didn’t stop there, however. After bringing down the sevengills, the murderous orcas turned their attention toward great white sharks. Since 2017, eight great white sharks have washed up on beaches in the area. Seven had their livers torn out, while a few others had missing hearts as well.
Scientists knew immediately that the grim deaths were the work of killer whales. “There were killer whale tooth impressions on the pectoral fins of the sharks, [and] their livers were removed so neatly—it would take coordination of large and sophisticated animals to tear a white shark open and do this,” Towner told Newsweek.
“Also each time a dead shark washed out, there had been sightings of killer whales in the area, so all the evidence pointed to killer-whale predation, and was also confirmed by killer-whale biologists.”