Dead Sharks on a Beach Were Missing Their Livers

The orcas Port and Starboard are the suspected killers
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 7, 2023 4:45 PM CST
Dead Sharks on a Beach Were Missing Their Livers
Twenty dead sharks washed up on a beach in Gansbaai, about 100 miles from Cape Town.   (Getty Images / GroblerduPreez)

First Cocaine Bear, now Disemboweling Orcas? The former may be fiction, but marine biologists say the second are all too real and recently attacked a group of sharks off South Africa.

  • The gory details. Twenty dead sharks—19 broad nosed seven-gill and one spotted gully, all females measuring up to 7.5 feet—washed up on a beach in Gansbaai, about 100 miles from Cape Town. They were torn open and missing their livers and had orca teeth marks on their pectoral fins. Marine biologist Ralph Watson characterizes the orcas' technique as "surgical": the liver "flops out" when the pectoral girdle chest area is opened, giving the orcas access to a "very nutritious organ, full of oils."
  • The culprits. The AFP says it best: "All evidence points to 'Port' and 'Starboard,' an infamous pair of killer whales spotted off Gansbaai only three days earlier." Starboard has previously been seen killing a great white with the assistance of other orcas. The duo have been known to scientists since 2015.

  • About the killers. The Miami Herald reports Port and Starboard's names come from their highly recognizable collapsed dorsal fins; one fin falls to the right and the other to the left.
  • Why the liver? The organ is huge: It can account for as much as 25% of a shark's weight and take up 90% of the room in its body cavity. There's a reason for that: Sharks lack a swim bladder, so the liver—whose oils aren't as dense as seawater—provides some buoyancy.
  • Humans are worse. Port and Starboard may be a threat, but a limited one as compared to the havoc fishermen inflict on shark populations, notes Watson, who says hundreds of thousands of sharks are caught annually.
(More orca stories.)

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