In marine ecosystems killer whales and great white sharks sit at the top of the food chain, but clearly they are not equal

Historically, great whites have ruled the waves all along the coast of South Africa. There is a wonderful sequence in planet earth where a great white is filmed in ultra slow motion, leaping from the water as it tries to catch seals – something it is an expert in.

The incredible scene of great whites leaping clear of the water on the BBC planet earth

Yet, two killer whales have shown that, like the cheetah, while the great white terrifies its prey, it must still watch its step when it comes to the lion.

This has the potential to completely change the ecosystem, as great whites behaviour has a great impact on the behaviour of Abalone and even Penguins.

It is thought that just two Orca (or killer whales) have developed a taste for Great white shark liver. Amusingly called Port and Starboard, the have terrified the shark population, into avoiding areas such as around Gansbaal an area which is usually good for tourist to see the huge predatory fish. In the same way that wild dogs have avoided areas in the Serengeti where lions frequent, great whites are staying away from areas that are good for food, to stay alive.

Both apex predators have been seen to successfully kill the other, though a similar attack has been observed off the coast of the USA. In both instances the killer whale has eaten the most nutritious organ the liver, with the orca off South Africa, also often consuming the heart.

The removal of the usual apex predator can have strange impacts further down the food chain, for instance bronze whaler sharks – usually targeted by great whites, are having bigger impacts on the food chain due to their absence.

This could have a huge impact in the long run, but so far scientists are unsure what the long-term impact will be.

Watch this space

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