Discover How Killer Whales Chased Great Whites from San Francisco Waters

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: July 22, 2022
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When we think of the scariest predator in the ocean, most of us hear the Jaws music start to play and imagine the fin of a great white shark cutting through the water. As scary as these massive fish are, they aren’t necessarily the worst boys in the sea. In fact, the apex predator that swims in all the world’s oceans is the killer whale. The killer whale is such an incredible hunter that even the mighty great white slinks off into the depths if it knows that a killer whale is present. Let’s learn more about killer whales and their favorite snacks: shark livers.

Why are Killer Whales chasing Great White Sharks out of San Fransisco?

Discover How Killer Whales Chased Great Whites from San Francisco Waters

Orcas are well-known predators of sharks, even large ones like great whites.

©Tory Kallman/

Recent news has begun highlighting one of the craziest rivalries in the world’s oceans: the battle between killer whales (orcas) and great white sharks. Although the match may seem fair, a pack of orcas can easily overpower and kill a great white. Recently, orcas have begun targeting sharks, with the practice spreading all over the world. The reason? Shark livers.

Killer whales are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and have learned that one of the best sources of vitamins and nutrients in the world is the liver of a shark. In fact, orcas have started systematically targeting sharks and surgically removing their liver, leaving the rest of the body to rot. This unusual behavior shows how precise and cunning a pack of orcas can be.

Do Killer Whales hunt Great Whites often?

Discover How Killer Whales Chased Great Whites from San Francisco Waters

Sharks are a regular part of certain orca pods’ diets.


Although this behavior seems brutal, it isn’t super widespread. Currently, the process of targeting the livers of sharks primarily happens in South Africa. Still, the behavior seems to spread as transient orca pods teach other orcas as they move around the globe.

Even outside of livers, however, orcas are well-known to target sharks as a food source. Orcas are so adept at killing sharks that many sharks will drop down to crazy depths and leave the region as soon as possible upon learning that orcas are in the area. Orcas won’t necessarily target great whites out of spite but will kill any of their primary food sources when given a chance. Great whites are prevalent in the northern Pacific, especially around San Fransisco. When the sharks in the area realize that a pod of orcas is on the prowl, they get out of sight.

Why do Killer Whales hunt Great Whites?

As we mentioned, killer whales consider most sharks, including great whites, a prey source. Additionally, certain pods of orcas have discovered the nutritional value of shark livers, an organ that humans have long used as a source of nutrients. Shark livers have a ton of vitamins, but they are especially known for the abundance of squalene that is stored in them. All living animals need and create squalene, but sharks concentrate it in their livers. Although orcas don’t realize they are eating a superfood, they likely feel better when they eat livers. As such, they have developed a taste for them in the same way that humans crave things when we are deficient.

How do Killer Whales kill Great White Sharks?

Discover How Killer Whales Chased Great Whites from San Francisco Waters

Killer whales flip sharks over, causing them to enter a paralyzed trance state.


Orcas are incredible hunters. They do hunt solo but are most famous for their habit of hunting in a pack, a behavior they share with other dolphins as well as wolves. This behavior has earned them the nickname of the “wolves of the sea,” and the name is quite fitting. Aside from having a numbers advantage, orcas also have an intelligence advantage.

Sharks have a unique weakness known as tonic immobility. If a shark is flipped upside down, it will become paralyzed and put into a semi-sleep state. Orcas seem to have discovered this and will keep sharks flipped over and paralyzed for as long as 15 minutes. During that time, they make surgical bits in strategic areas, allowing the slippery liver to slide right out. Once they have their prize, they leave the death-bound shark to its own devices.

Are Sharks afraid of Killer Whales?

After reading the manner in which orcas kill sharks, what kind of creature wouldn’t be afraid! Sharks are also apex predators, but no predatory shark could ever hope to grapple with a single orca, let alone a pod. As such, sharks usually try their best to avoid orcas at all costs. When they find out there are orcas nearby, they dive to depths that orcas aren’t usually found in the hopes of flying under the radar.

This strategy occasionally works, but sharks working the coastline looking for food, especially great whites looking for seals, are bound to get caught eventually.

Are Killer Whales dangerous to humans?

Discover How Killer Whales Chased Great Whites from San Francisco Waters

Incredibly, the ocean’s greatest predators leave humans alone in the wild.


With a name like “killer whale,” most people would associate them with dangerous predators, looking for any chance to kill an unsuspecting human. Although orcas are the ocean’s apex predators, they treat humans with great deference, and wild orcas rarely attack humans in any recorded situation.

There are a few theories about why orcas don’t attack humans, most of them around diets. Generally, orcas only eat the things that they learn to eat from their mothers. Since orcas don’t acclimate to humans in the wild, they don’t eat them when they are older. Still, the mystery is quite open-ended, even with these working theories about why orcas don’t attack humans.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tory Kallman/

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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