Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A single killer whale took down a big shark in under two minutes. Scientists think this might mean a change in nature stuff

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A couple of killer whales have been working together to catch and eat great white sharks along a part of the South African coast since at least 2017. They take the nutrient-rich livers of the sharks and leave the rest behind.

Scientists are trying to understand how they hunt, and they recently saw something surprising. One of the killer whales, called Starboard, managed to kill a young white shark all by itself in just two minutes last year. This behavior is unusual because killer whales usually hunt in groups, but this time, it was just one whale doing the job.

A marine biologist named Dr. Primo Micarelli, who was on a boat watching the attack, said that he has seen these killer whales affecting the local white shark population for over 20 years. However, he is getting worried about how it might affect the balance of marine life near the coast.

This kind of solo hunting by killer whales is rare, especially when it comes to one of the biggest predators in the world, the great white shark. The researchers shared their findings in a study published in the African Journal of Marine Science.

Typically, killer whales work together to surround and attack big prey like sea lions, seals, and sharks. But this time, Starboard did it alone. Previous attacks on great whites involved two to six killer whales and took up to two hours.

The researchers observed this event on June 18, 2023, near Seal Island, about 400 kilometers east of Cape Town. Starboard grabbed a shark, thrusted it several times, and eviscerated it in less than two minutes. This new way of hunting by killer whales is challenging for scientists to keep up with because it doesn’t follow the usual patterns they’ve seen before.

There’s a famous pair of killer whales known by the researchers in the study. They’ve been hunting and killing big sharks, especially great white sharks, for a long time. These killer whales have distinct bent dorsal fins, which inspired their names.

These two travel a lot along the eastern coast of South Africa, going up to Namibia. The researchers think they started going after great whites around 2015, but the first time they were caught on camera doing it was in 2022.

The researchers believe that changes in the environment, like climate change and industrial fishing by humans, might be connected to why these killer whales started hunting sharks. They say more research and funding are needed to understand this better.

The researchers found a strong smell of shark liver and saw seagulls going after something on the water. They also found another dead shark nearby. This made them think that the killer whales might have killed another great white shark before the researchers got there.

The study suggests that the lone killer whale, named Starboard, might have been able to kill the shark because it was smaller and younger. The big sharks, like adult great whites, are much larger.

The researchers also think that Starboard might be really good at hunting because it quickly killed the shark. This could be because hunting close to the shore where there are a lot of humans can be stressful, so the whale became more skilled.

The study mentions that killer whales like these two are smart and can learn new hunting tricks on their own or from other killer whales. Understanding how they behave is important to learn more about these animals.


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