This past April, an ocean tour operator from California captured gruesome footage of a killer whale dispatching an adult whale shark, apparently by removing its liver. The video is thought to be the first of its kind.
The CEO of Ocean Safaris, James Moskito, captured the scene while on an expedition to Baja California in Mexico. The video opens in deep blue water as a large figure passes beneath the camera. “Whale shark,” Moskito yells, alerting his clients who are diving nearby.
Then an orca swims up from underneath and latches onto the giant shark’s underside. It’s hard to tell from the footage, but during the attack, the orca removes the whale shark’s liver with near surgical precision. After the orca releases it and swims to the surface, the whale shark flips belly-up and slowly sinks downward.
“It’s literally over in a matter of seconds,” Moskito told LiveScience. “They came in, they bit the bottom of the whale shark. Looks like they slurped in the liver and then the whale shark just fell and descended down, with no movement—I’m assuming it was dead.”
After the whale shark sinks, the video shows a second orca surfacing, apparently to share in the meal. The camera follows the two marine mammals as they make several vocalizations and swim off. Then it swings back to show a handful of nearby divers who were swimming just above the action.
Marine biologist Dr. Alison Kock explained in a series of X posts that scientists first observed orcas, also known as killer whales, removing sevengill shark livers in 2015, and then great white shark livers in 2017. The phenomenon was first captured on video in drone footage in 2022.
“They likely initially learn by experience when first predating a new species,” Dr. Kock explained in one of the posts. “Once they know where the liver is, or any other body part they are specifically interested in, they will remember it forever and become more efficient,” she wrote.
Whale sharks are the largest shark species on the planet and can grow to 60 feet long. While full grown and healthy adults are rarely preyed upon, orcas and tiger sharks are known to eat calves and injured individuals. Shark livers are rich in fish oil and considered highly nutritious. Orcas, which can grow to 30 feet and are the largest members of the dolphin family, are also known to remove and eat shark hearts and testes as well as blue whale tongues.