A great white shark that appeared half-eaten when it washed up on an Australian beach had probably been attacked by a killer whale that just wanted its liver, wildlife scientists said.
Portland Bait and Tackle in Victoria, Australia, posted photos of the white shark carcass to their Facebook page on Tuesday, calling it “equal parts cool and terrifying.” The bait shop manager, Ben Johnstone, told Insider the shark was about 3 meters long, or nearly 10 feet.
Johnstone said they believed killer whales had attacked the shark because they had been spotted in the area a couple days prior to the shark carcass appearing on the beach. He also noted that killer whales have been documented attacking white sharks.
Killer whales off the coast of South Africa have been documented on several occasions attacking great white sharks specifically to eat their livers. Rare footage captured for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in 2022 showed three orcas killing a great white shark in order to eat its liver. The video supported a study published last year that suggested killer whale attacks had forced white sharks to flee from waters near South Africa. It was also discovered that some whales removed shark hearts.
Orcas hunting white sharks has also been documented near Australia, Lauren Meyer, a trophic ecologist at Flinders University, told the Australian outlet ABC News. Meyer said she could not say for sure that the shark carcass had been attacked by a killer whale. But she said that it was likely an orca attacked the shark to “slurp out” its liver.
“We see this with things like humpback whales, where [killer whales] come in and actually eat the tongue and leave the rest of the whale,” Meyer told ABC. “We certainly see that they prefer the liver of white sharks, mako sharks, bronze whalers and sevengills, and even tiger sharks.”
Meyer added there have been at least nine documented interactions between white sharks and orcas near Australia and New Zealand. She added she was not surprised to see the carcass wash up in the area, noting its a corridor for white sharks and that orcas are known to hunt there.
Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife scientist in Australia, also said the shark was likely targeted by an orca for its liver, the Australian outlet 9News reported.
Pirotta said orcas are “very strategic and clever” and that scientists are still trying to understand why then can also be such “picky eaters.”
As for the white sharks that likely fled waters in South Africa over the orca attacks, they’ve recently been found — a study published this month indicated the sharks had actually migrated east.