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Great White Shark v Killer Whale: The two deadliest sea titans are now waging war on each other

Mirror logo Mirror 16/05/2017 Warren Manger
Credits: Marine Dynamics / Dyer Island Conservation Trust © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: Marine Dynamics / Dyer Island Conservation Trust

They are two of the biggest – and deadliest – predators of all time.

For years scientists believed both killer whales and great white sharks were utterly untouchable at the top of the food chain.

But now these monsters of the deep are locked in a deadly battle for survival off the coast of South Africa.

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Related: Scientists find the most toxic killer whale, ever (USA Today)

The bodies of three great whites have washed up on beaches already during May.

That in itself is rare, but what really shocked scientists was that their livers had been removed with “surgical precision”.

It was the unmistakable calling card of the killer whale, or orca.

The whales are known as “wolves of the sea” as they hunt in groups and gorge on 200kg of food a day.

Some pods specialise in hunting one particular species, mastering unique techniques to catch their deadly prey.

Ingrid Visser, who was studied killer whales for nearly 20 years, said orcas used their powerful tails to create strong underwater currents that forced the sharks to the surface, then stunned them.

Credits: Marine Dynamics / Dyer Island Conservation Trust

Credits: Marine Dynamics / Dyer Island Conservation Trust
© Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited

“Once the shark is at the surface, the killer whale pivots and lifts its tail out of the water and comes down on top of it like a karate chop,” she said.

The shark’s fatty liver can weight more than 60kg and is rich in organic chemicals that make it a perfect food source for killer whales.

Alison Towner, a biologist from the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, said: “They work together and are very co-ordinated.

"Two orcas take a pectoral fin in their mouth and pull open a shark together to extract the liver.”

Ms Towner, who is based at the shark hotspot of Gansbaai, two hours east of Cape Town, said killer whales had only ever been spotted attacking great whites twice, and never before around South Africa.

She said the whales may have started targeting great whites because their other food sources were disappearing as a result of pollution or climate change.

There are only two predators alive that are bigger than killer whales – the sperm whale and the giant squid.

These two giants are locked in an equally titanic struggle as sperm whales eat giant squid, often suffering horrendous scars from the squid’s tentacles as it lashes out in self-defence.

The Great White v the Killer Whale

The Killer Whale

  • Length: Males can reach 9.5m (31ft) females can reach up to 8.5m (28ft). Their tales can measure 2.75m (9ft) from tip to tip
  • Weight: On average they weigh up to six tonnes, but the heaviest recorded was a huge 10 tonnes - the equivalent of 120 men.
  • Speed: Up to 30mph
  • Diet: Fish, mainly salmon, plus seals and sea lions, sharks and stingrays.
  • Deadliest feature: Killer whales hunt in groups of up to 40 and are smart enough to learn new ways of working together to take down their prey, allowing them to target almost any animal.
  • In Antarctica they have learned to make waves to wash seals of the ice into the water.
  • Most famous of species: Free Willy and Shamu

The Great White Shark

  • Length: The females are the biggest, growing up to 6m (20ft) long. Males can be up to 4m (12ft)
  • Weight: More than 2.25 tonnes - the equivalent of 30 men
  • Speed: 15mph
  • Diet: Mainly fish, but they also hunt dolphins, seals, seal lions and occasionally sea turtles.
  • Deadliest feature: Great whites ambush their prey and have more than 300 razor sharp teeth that grow up to 5.7cm long. They are angled into the mouth to grab prey and tear off chunks of flesh.
  • Most famous of species: Jaws

Verdict: Despite the fact Great White Sharks have more terrifying teeth, the fact that Killer Whales are bigger, faster, and hunt in groups mean there is only one winner when these two top predators clash.

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