Apex Predators: Do Orcas Eat Sharks? (Answered)

do orcas eat sharks

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Orcas, also known as “wolves of the sea” are notorious for their apex predator status and supreme intelligence.

They live in pods that usually consist of between 5 – 30 members, but some may form groups of up to 100 individuals or more.

Feeding mostly on fish, stingrays, penguins, seals, and other marine mammals, they use sophisticated hunting techniques developed over centuries to secure their prey.

Today, we’re going to deep dive into a question that often comes up when discussing the many food sources of orca. Do orcas eat sharks?

In short, yes they do. Orcas have a varied diet that includes fish, marine mammals, and even some species of sharks.

Let’s get into it…

Do Orcas Eat Sharks?

Whilst it may come as a surprise to many, in recent years orcas have been observed killing and eating parts of the most feared animal on earth, the great white shark.

It’s a fascinating find and one that has been suspected by scientists for years off the coast of South Africa and now they have the video evidence to prove it.

I won’t link the video here, but if you’re interested I suggest you search for the footage on Youtube and take a look, it’s very interesting.

orca swimming
Image by Glenn Brunette

In fact, orcas are the only known predators of great white sharks, which puts them at the very top of the food chain in marine ecosystems.

Can Orcas Eat Great White Sharks?

The great white shark is an animal that strikes fear into the hearts of many, and for good reason.

With large razor-sharp teeth, a length that can reach up to 20 feet, and a body weight that can be as heavy as 1,100kg, it’s no surprise that people are afraid of them.

The largest verified male orca was 32 feet long, and where orcas get the upper hand is through their intelligence and working together as a pod.

A pod of orcas is capable of taking on any animal that lives in the ocean, from great white sharks to blue whales and everything in between.

Orcas are extremely powerful and use their muscular bodies to ram into the shark’s soft underbelly and gills, making it difficult for the shark to breathe.

They then use their teeth to tear the shark apart before proceeding to eat the desired organs.

Orcas are so exceptional at hunting that they can even take down the largest animal ever found on earth, a blue whale.

They typically target blue whale calves as these are easier to take down, but biologists from Flinders University in Australia have witnessed a pod of orca taking down adult blue whales.

The attack involved around 14 orcas and was led by adult females, and the target blue whale was estimated to be 18 – 22m long and healthy.

After the whale had died and sunk to the seabed, about 50 orcas were seen bringing lumps of flesh up to the surface and sharing them.

The same team in Australia has witnessed the same group of orcas hunting two blue whale calves, so it seems they have plenty of experience.

If orcas can take down the biggest animal to ever live, then there’s no doubt they can make quick work of a great white shark.

Why Do Orcas Eat Sharks?

Orcas kill sharks to eat their liver which is full of nutrients and packed with calories, exactly the same way humans eat liver.

A great white shark’s liver can contain 400 liters of oil and 2 million kilocalories of energy, so for a small organ, it’s a highly nutritious meal for orcas.

Orcas have high nutritional needs to stay strong and healthy, so killing sharks and eating their liver is the perfect meal for these carnivores.

But orcas don’t just eat great whites, they eat a variety of small sharks on a regular basis to capitalize on their nutritious livers.

Sharks are easy prey for a pod of orcas, so oftentimes when they come across a shark they will take advantage and take the easy meal.

In most cases of orcas eating sharks, the shark’s body remains almost entirely intact after they’ve killed them.

They extract the shark livers surgically and leave the remains behind for other animals to feed on.

Washed up shark corpses were found on beaches or floating in the sea, and initially, the deaths were a mystery up until the recent footage of orcas killing sharks off the coast of South Africa.

The bodies each had a wound on their lower side, closer to their pectoral fin, with the heart, stomach, or testes missing, as well as the liver.

Are Sharks Afraid Of Orcas?

Due to orcas preying on great white sharks, the sharks have been observed leaving their favorite hunting spots, suggesting that sharks ARE afraid of orcas.

There have been multiple studies documenting this, for example, one study in 2020 found that great whites will flee without fail from their hunting waters in San Fransico if an orca makes an appearance.

When orcas are in town, the sharks vanish, and this happens consistently in many areas where great white sharks are present.

Image by Images by John ‘K’

In a recent study by marine biologist Alison Towner and her team that used data from tracked sharks, it was found that there was a large-scale avoidance of orcas by the sharks.

Towner explained that this avoidance was similar to what has been observed in the Serengeti in Tanzania by wild dogs when lions are present.

Over the course of 5 years, the team tracked 14 sharks and found that without fail they fled the area when orcas were present.

Wrapping Up

Orcas are formidable predators that are highly intelligent, sentient beings. They play, have feelings, and also have complex social structures.

They’re much more intelligent than given credit for and use this to their advantage when it comes to hunting prey, especially large prey.

Great white sharks are on their menu, and they use sophisticated tactics to paralyze the shark before going in for the kill.

This way they ensure nobody gets hurt, and the rewards are a big, juice shark liver that is one of their favorite meals.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about orcas eating sharks and visiting our site.

Feel free to stick around and learn more about orcas and the many other marine life that we discuss here.