Killer whales could be responsible for the disappearance of great white sharks from South African waters, according to a new government report.
At the top of the food chain, killer whales or orcas tear the fatty liver from their unfortunate prey from great white sharks.
Scientists speculate that this behavior may be due to the disappearance of large whites from the waters of False Bay off the coast of Cape Town.
At least seven great white shark carcasses have washed ashore in False Bay since 2017, with telltale tooth marks indicating that orcas have struck them.
Great whites are a big draw in Cape Town. Visitors can view them from excursion boats or shark protection cages, but their numbers have declined sharply since at least 2017.
Experts have suggested that everything from illegal hunting and overfishing to pollution and even climate change was behind the decline.
However, a team of government experts reported that there may be a “causal link” between the absence of the sharks and the appearance of a pod from orcas that specialize in hunting great white sharks.
Scroll down for video
At least seven great white shark carcasses have washed ashore in False Bay since 2017, with telltale tooth marks suggesting they were haunted by orcas. Researchers say great whites who encounter killer whales will immediately leave their usual hunting grounds for a year
A panel of experts led by South African Environment Minister Barbara Creecy reported that the disappearance of the sharks near Cape Town was more of a shift in distribution … as a result of the recent emergence and predation of orcas, rather than fishery-related activity. ‘
Speaking at a conference Tuesday, Creecy said the lack of the great white had “had a devastating effect on the shark diving industry and immensely disappointed the hundreds of tourists who visit our shores to see this great predator.”
According to the conservation organization Shark Spotters, great whites were sighted in False Bay more than 200 times a year from 2010 to 2016.
There were only 50 sightings by 2018 – and none during all of 2019.
The first great white in 20 months was seen in False Bay in January, according to Mongo Bay, the only sighting that year.
A pair of killer whales, nicknamed Port and Starboard, were first seen in the area in 2015.
Great white sharks are a major tourist attraction in South Africa. Daring visitors are lowered into shark cages for a close-up visit. But the number of shark sightings near Cape Town has plummeted since 2017, threatening ecotourism in the area
The absence of the sharks has been blamed for everything from climate change to illegal hunting. A group of government experts said Tuesday they believe they are being deterred by another apex predator, the killer whale
Between 2010 and 2016, shark spotters in False Bay, near Seal Island (pictured), had more than 200 great white sightings a year. No sharks were sighted in 2019 and only one was seen in 2020 so far.