The killer whales have created what’s been referred to as a “landscape of fear”, even chasing away fearsome predators like great white sharks. Rather than face being killed and having their livers extracted, sharks are redirecting their hunting activity to safer waters. The risk for humans is when these hunting grounds become closer to shore, and great whites start patrolling recreational waters.
But there are also significant risks for coastal ecosystems, as can be seen from a case study in Alaska. During the 1990s, killer whales began targeting sea otters across the Aleutian Islands, resulting in a massive decline in numbers. As a result, the sea urchins (which sea otters fed on) exploded in abundance and razed the kelp forests of the region with devastating consequences.
Do killer whales eat sharks? The answer is yes. For many years, great white sharks have held the title of apex predator in the ocean, with their rows of razor-sharp teeth only adding to their fearsome image. But evidence shows that orca whales eat sharks for their nutrient and fat-rich livers. Killer whales can rival great whites for being brutal killers, drawing on their exceptional stamina and ability to travel huge distances in search of prey.
Orcas will eat almost anything they can catch and get their jaws around, and sharks are no exception. They have learned that shark livers are an energy-rich source of food and can provide an easy feed when other prey sources are lacking. As global conditions change, distribution patterns overlap, and the usual sources of nutrition for killer whales decline. As a result, the attacks on great white sharks may only become more frequent. While killer whales eating a shark does not bode well for the great whites, the good news is that they do seem to be learning and adjusting their behavior based on the threat.
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