Orca vs. Great White Shark

Since 2017, sensationalist news reports on blood thirsty Orcas feeding on the Livers of Great White Sharks have been doing the rounds on the internet, and social media. So, what is the truth about the Orca vs. Great White Sharks beyond the classic, degenerative symptoms of “broken telephone syndrome” and perpetuating gruesome myths?

An interesting and telling fact is that, despite the exciting commentary circulating the globe of Orcas and Great Whites sharing the same waters, no one person witnessed any attack by an Orca on a Great White Shark in South African Waters. Yet these stories somehow reached every corner of the globe, with each reader proclaiming themselves an expert on Orca predation on Great Whites – “That must be why they are gone!”

The sheer majesty of Great White Sharks and Orca Whales clearly capture the imaginations of millions of people across the globe – and understandably so. HOWEVER, it is important to keep an open mind, lest we get too sidetracked, and while the smoke and mirrors are attracting our attention there – something else, sinister and greedy is taking advantage of the situation, to decimate and destroy the exact thing we are trying so hard to save.

Dwindling populations for the Great White Shark

Four dead Great White Sharks washed up on Gansbaai shores in 2017 with suspicious injuries and missing livers, leading to speculation that the deaths were caused by the now famous Orcas, and partners in crime – Port & Starboard. While all the signs indicated “Death by Orca Whale”, such as Orca teeth marks and missing livers, – it would be irresponsible to place the blame for the decline in the Great White population squarely on the Orcas.

Long before the supposed attack on Great Whites by Orca Whales – the surprisingly small number of Great White Sharks had been documented along the South African coast by Stellenbosch University White Shark Expert – Dr. Sara Andreotti, and our world-famous Shark Man – Mike Rutzen.

  • Population tracking showed a decline: In 2012, the numbers were produced via the painstaking identification of approximately 4800 photographs (a work which then formed the development of a White Shark specific fin identification software program- IdentiFIN) from which only 426 sharks could be identified.
  • Conservation efforts were too late: These numbers were also supported by a thorough genetic analysis, which included 303 genetic samples collected around the South African coastline. Running all the results through a population model generated estimates of  between 333 and 532 individuals left – and this was back in 2012.
  • The resulting scientific papers were submitted and published in peer review scientific journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The findings were unfortunately debated without additional scientific evidence – effectively halting the petition to have the Great White Shark upgraded to Appendix I and halting further conservation efforts for the species.
  • At risk environment and lack of food sources: This is one of the many spanners in the works when it comes to protecting The Great White. It hasn’t entirely helped that the Great White Shark has been protected in South Africa since 1991. Yes, it has undoubtedly helped to create awareness, but when the Great White Shark’s main food source is not protected, and is on the literal brink of collapse (if it hasn’t collapsed already) it is just not enough! The question is, how can we protect an animal if we do not protect its food and environment?

  • The Australian “Flake & Chips” market is a shark-hungry machine. Thousands of Australians create a thriving demand for a replacement of the classic “Hake & Chips”. Most Australians don’t know they are eating shark when they eat flake & chips. Australia’s own fish stocks collapsed resulting in them turning to shark meat to meet the demand. Once their own shark stocks started taking strain, they turned to international waters to supply the Flake & Chips market, and who stepped up to meet the demand? South Africa did.
  • SA’s declining fish supplies: South Africa has scattered regulations and no quotas set on shark fisheries, which threatens the future sustainability of our smaller shark populations – the staple diet of the Great White Shark. One species, the Smoothhound shark (known to be an important prey for the white shark) has declined by 95% in our area over a three-year period, which just highlights the rate at which these species are being decimated.

There is scarce inspection of catches and up to four times the recommended quotas removed from our coastal waters, annually. Therefore, it’s no wonder the Great White Sharks are suffering. Not at the hands of Orca Whales, but actually at the hands of humans.

  • By-catch casualties: There have also been several reports of sharks getting caught as by-catch on these long-lining vessels. Great whites are opportunistic animals, so it is no surprise that if one of their items of prey is hanging on a line, they will go for it and, ultimately, get caught themselves.
  • Protection measures gone too far: Hundreds of kilometres of shark nets and drumlines run along the Kwazulu-Natal coastline. Between 1978 and 2008 these lines killed approximately 1063 white sharks (as part of shark protection measures by the Kwazulu-Natal Sharks Board). Recent figures show that an average of 25-32 white sharks are caught in the nets and drumlines, each year. This is a massive percentage of sharks if there are only 333-532 individuals left.

Blaming Orcas for dwindling shark populations is harmful

It is just not possible for two Orca Whales to decimate the entire White Shark population. There is no doubt that Orcas can impact the presence of White Sharks, but once the Great Whites are in deep water, they are safe from Orcas. The decline in White Shark numbers was detected long before the Orcas came along. Blaming them for the decline only means hiding the REAL issues.

Separate the “killer” whale facts from the fiction – support shark conservation

White Shark Diving Company founded Shark & Marine Research Institute in the hope that enough scientific research would be able to turn the sinking ship around. But, without public support and pressure put on the South African Government, it seems the smoke and mirror games will continue to hide the real facts, unless we take the time to question what we read, ask the right questions, get the right answers, and take the appropriate actions.

One person CAN make a difference – share accurate and interesting facts about Orca whales and Great Whites, and address your relevant local government departments to express your concerns over the decline in our shark populations. They belong to the Ocean and the Ocean needs us to fiercely protect them. Please contact us, using the quick enquiry form or telephonically,  to find out how you can get involved and what you can do to help!

Get in touch with the Kwazulu-Natal Sharks board and express your concerns at the high numbers of endangered Great White Sharks caught in their nets each year – they need to implement a Shark Safe Solution urgently! Please email them on matt@shark.co.za