Otters are masters of misdirection. Having cleverly contributed to countless hours of footage showing them as floofy floaters holding hands and juggling, they’ve carried out the PR spin of a lifetime with many being unaware of their dark side. What’s that, I hear you cry? Why yes, I am anthropomorphizing and unfairly passing judgments based on human moral codes onto wild animals carrying out their natural behaviors. However, this next story might give you pause for thought the next time you stare into the eyes of these calculated killers.
A coastal town in South Africa has discovered their resident otters are practicing an unusual and highly skilled predation technique, killing sharks to eat their livers, hearts, and male reproductive organs before discarding the rest of the carcass. Rangers were puzzled as over the last few months they were finding more and more shark carcasses that appeared to have been operated on as they were missing vital organs. They were strewn across the shores of Simon’s Town, False Bay, which is famous for its population of great white sharks, which can sometimes be seen breaching the ocean surface while hunting.
It seemed, however, the hunters had become the hunted, as the partially gutted remains of shysharks continued to rack up on beaches, and soon otters were discovered to be the culprit as they were seen tucking into shysharks on the shore. While the heart, liver, and male reproductive organs might sound like especially savage focus points, these areas are the parts of the sharks that are most nutritious and hence explains why the otters have such a penchant for this particular offal trio.
Fortunately, the predated shysharks aren’t in short supply and their abundance might actually explain why the otters have become such choosy feeders. When spoilt for choice, carnivores can be more selective in the meat they choose to consume, so with a veritable feast of shysharks, these otters wouldn’t waste a good appetite on some nutrient-deficient cheap cuts.
This selective feeding approach has also been observed in killer whales, who are able to take on great whites in areas such as False Bay, and there have been several carcasses of these apex predators found sans-lipid-dense-livers on the shore.
The unfortunate fate of these two shark species at the hands (or fins) of mammals with a far friendlier reputation demonstrates that sharks aren’t all that deserving of their title as lean, mean killing machines. If this woman who was taken to hospital with a suspected shark bite while shouting “I still love sharks!” can see past the teeth, maybe it’s time for a rebrand.