Murder in the kelp beds.
Our shores are often visited by various types of whales and whale watching is a regular pastime in Betty’s Bay but looking for Orca’s, or killer whales, is not usually something we do. Yet, we have been glued to our balcony with a pair of binoculars for the last few days, constantly scanning the Kelp forests of Betty’s Bay main beach in front of us as we hope to catch a rare glimpse of a killer whale in the bay.
The reason for our hopefulness is found in the evidence of the 5 dead Sevengill Cow sharks that washed up on main beach this past Saturday.
Cow sharks are often spotted by divers along our coastline. They are the most primitive of all the sharks with links to the Triassic period and are the only sharks with seven gills. They are often found in groups as they hunt together in packs at night or hang out in the safety of kelp forests during the day in order to evade its predators, mostly great white sharks or other larger cow sharks. This evasive tactic did not prove successful for the 5 sharks on this particular occasion as they become dinner to a much larger predator.
Local residents spotted the dead sharks on the beach. It looked as if their throats were ripped open with skill and precision which initially raised the suspicion of human interference but Meagen McCord, the director of the South African shark conservancy In Hermanus, has since confirmed that the massacre was the work of killer whales: “What they do, is they work in pairs. Each one seems to grab a pectoral fin, they then flip the shark over and rip open the area between the pectoral fins. After splitting open the throat and chest cavity, they suck out the liver and that is the only part of the shark that they eat – those shark livers are high in nutrients and vitamins.”
Even more interesting than the attack on the sharks itself, may be the fact that the same pair of Orca whales have been so active in killing great white sharks in False Bay over the last 2 years that they have not only become the prime suspects in the incident, they can actually be identified in a line-up. ‘Port’ and ‘Starboard’, named after the direction that their dorsal fins flop over, have become overnight celebrities in Betty’s Bay.
Although no one saw the incident occur, Port and Starboard have been spotted too many times and been linked to too many other crimes in False Bay to ignore their possible involvement. The binoculars will remain at hand. Who knows, maybe when we spot that whale we will be lucky enough to see if its fin flops left or right.