Great white sharks are being killed in bizarre fashion off the coast of South Africa as carcasses have been found washed up with only their livers missing.

Killer whales are believed to be responsible for the strange predatory pattern, with one expert noting that the organs were removed with "surgical precision".

At least three liver-less white shark carcasses have washed up near the popular tourist town Gansbaai, South Africa, so far in an unprecedented set of killings.

Experts suggest that local killer whales have developed an appetite for squalene - an organic chemical compound found in abundance in shark liver oil.


"Obviously this is a very sad time for us all," Alison Towner, a biologist with the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, wrote in a Facebook post after the third carcass was discovered near Gansbaai.

"Nature can be so cruel and the dexterity these enormous animals are capable of is mind blowing... almost surgical precision as they remove the squalene-rich liver of the white sharks and dump their carcass."

Gansbaai is widely considered one of the best regions in the world for shark diving.

Sharks generate millions in tourist revenue for the town, but the killer whales' spree appears to have driven many of the sharks away.

Local shark diving tour companies have complained that their trips are coming up empty.

"It's a very interesting time," Ms Towner wrote in another Facebook post.

"The last white shark washed up here on the 8th of February and the cage-diving boats struggled to see any sharks for almost two weeks. Unfortunately the cage-diving boats all came home after seeing no sharks again today."

Killer whales are after the sharks for their livers. Photo / Facebook
Killer whales are after the sharks for their livers. Photo / Facebook

Though mysterious great white deaths have appeared in the past, they have not been confirmed to have been the work of killer whales.


"We have never seen anything like this," Towner wrote.

"Today's carcass is another large white shark, he is a 4.2m male and his injuries seem to match those of the previous two dead specimens.

"It seems likely that orcas are again the cause of death but we will confirm after the autopsy."

Awe-inspiring footage captured in December last year showed a shark being eaten alive by a group of killer whales which then passes it to two calves.

The sevengill shark can be seen squirming in the orca's mouth before going still during the encounter in Monterey Bay, California.

The three killer whales were part of a larger group made up of 25 individuals who soon swarmed on the carcass, the Daily Mail reports.

The crystal clear footage was captured by wildlife photographer Slater Moore using a drone while he was giving a tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

The footage was then posted on Facebook.

Marine expert Mary Jane Schramm said the orca deliberately turned the shark upside-down in its mouth to paralyse it .

"They flip them over on their backs and all of a sudden they slip into what's called tonic immobility," she told KTVU.

"Some animals if they're attacked by a predator, instead of fleeing or fighting, they simply become still."

The whales then try and drown the shark by dragging it deep beneath the waves to prevent it from swimming.