What Great White Sharks Are Afraid Of

Great white sharks like to hang around where the eating is good, but studies of tagged sharks reveal that when a pod of orcas shows up, the sharks flee and won't return for a month or more.

In October 1997, fishing vessels near Southeast Farallon Island observed a young white shark interrupting a pair of orcas that were eating a sea lion. One of the whales rammed and killed the shark, and the duo proceeded to eat its liver. More recently, after orcas passed by a South African beach, five great-white carcasses washed ashore. All were, suspiciously, missing their liver.

A great white’s liver can account for a quarter of its body weight, and is even richer in fats and oils than whale blubber. It’s “one of the densest sources of calories you can find in the ocean,” Jorgensen says. “The orcas know their business, and they know where that organ lies.”

Rather than ripping their prey apart, it seems that orcas can extract livers with surprising finesse, despite lacking arms and hands. No one has observed their technique, but the wounds on otherwise intact carcasses suggest that they bite their victims near their pectoral fins and then squeeze the liver out through the wounds. “It’s like squeezing toothpaste,” Jorgensen says.

Too bad they didn't have fava beans for a side dish. Read about the intelligence and ferociousness that make orcas the real apex predators of the sea at the Atlantic.

(Image credit: Olga Ernst)

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