Great White Shark with Liver Torn out by Orca Washes up on Beach

A great white shark has washed up on a beach in South Africa with its liver missing having been savaged by orca. Alison Towner, a shark biologist, shared pictures of the dead shark on August 21 on Facebook. Images show a distinct hole visible on its underbelly.

A single pair of killer whales is believed to be responsible for several other killings of great white sharks off the coast of South Africa since 2017. They are thought to remove and eating their fatty internal organs, such as their livers and hearts.

These large and fatty organs are seemingly a favorite food of orca, and they appear to actively search out foods that contain high levels of lipids.

Towner has been leading research into orcas killing great white sharks off the coast of South Africa since carcasses started washing up. In her Facebook post, she said this was the first time a great white shark killed by an orca had washed up Hartenbos, Mossel Bay.

"It never gets easier seeing this," she wrote in a Facebook post. "This is a very fresh sub adult female shark."

Towner was author on a paper published in the African Journal of Marine Sciencethat examined these great white shark deaths. Between February and June 2017, five white sharks washed up on beaches in Gansbaai, South Africa, four of which had their livers removed in a surprisingly precise manner.

"There were killer whale tooth impressions on the pectoral fins of the sharks, [and] their livers were removed so neatly—it would take coordination of large and sophisticated animals to tear a white shark open and do this," Towner previously told Newsweek.

"Also each time a dead shark washed out, there had been sightings of killer whales in the area, so all the evidence pointed to killer whale predation, and was also confirmed by killer whale biologists."

This recent dead shark also showed signs of this characteristic neat approach.

"It's a surprisingly clean tear and varies in size but usually spans around the width of between the pec fins," Towner wrote in a comment under the post. "Often the heart is missing too as it is closely connected to the liver. The last white shark we necropsied due to orca predation had a fresh seal in its stomach."

The first footage of orcas hunting and killing a great white was recently released as part of Discovery Channel's Shark Week. In it, orca can be seen biting the dead shark around where its liver would be.

The local increase in orca predation on great whites is concerning as great whites are classified as a vulnerable species on the IUCN red list, and are under further pressure from direct fishing and bycatch.

According to the African Journal of Marine Science paper, the great whites in the area where the orca attacks have occurred are migrating away from the region, possibly to escape predation.

shark and orca
Stock images of an orca and a great white shark. A dead great white shark has washed up on a beach in South Africa, thought to have been killed by orcas for its fatty liver. iStock / Getty Images Plus

"What we seem to be witnessing though is a large-scale avoidance—rather than a fine-scale—strategy, mirroring what we see used by wild dogs in the Serengeti in Tanzania, in response to increased lion presence," Towner previously told Newsweek. "The more the orcas frequent these sites, the longer the great white sharks stay away."

This reduction in numbers of great whites off the Cape Town coast may have subsequent ripple effects on the local marine life.

"Balance is crucial in marine ecosystems, for example, with no great white sharks restricting cape fur seal behavior, the seals can predate on critically endangered African penguins, or compete for the small pelagic fish they eat," Towner said.