To conclude Shark Week 2018, guest writer Sean Diego Kelly tells us about the time he helped perform a necropsy on a female Great White Shark.

Who is Sean Diego Kelly?

Sean describes himself as just a laid-back surfer born and raised in Southern Africa. Former skipper and field coordinator of the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC), he tagged over 100 sharks and swam with the biggest and baddest our ocean has to offer. Currently, Sean forms part of a three-man man editorial team for South Africa’s core surfing magazine, Zigzag.

White Shark Sushi

Back at the South African Shark Conservancy, I was fortunate to work across the bay from the Great White capital of the world and home to the world-renowned “shark alley” – Gansbaai. In my life, I’ve walked with lions, tracked a group of rhinos, witnessed the Sardine Run first-hand and even got kissed by an elephant. But nothing compares to being in the water, face to teeth with the ocean’s most iconic predator, the Great White shark. That is unless you get the opportunity to cut one open in the name of science! (Yeah, I’m a shark nerd.)

Following the predation of a one and a half ton, nearly 5-meter long female white shark by two orcas, I received a phone call from Alison Towner – one of the world’s leading white shark scientists – asking if I would like to assist in the necropsy

How do we know it was an orca? Well, she had no liver. It had been sucked out, with the rest of the body still intact. Why? Well, due to the absence of a swim bladder, sharks use their nutrient-rich liver (which can weigh up to 1/3 of its total body weight) to control their buoyancy. So you can imagine it was one helluva snack for the two orcas, affectionately dubbed Port and Starboard due to their collapsed dorsal fins.

From this almost religious experience, I took away 3 important lessons:

  1. Don’t stand downwind of a necropsy. A decomposing 4.8m shark stinks, especially when the stomach is removed and “groomed” for parasites.
  2. White shark females are hard to charm. This one, estimated to be around 30 odd years old, was still a virgin judging by the unruptured hymen. Yeah, science can be pretty intrusive sometimes.
  3. Size doesn’t matter to an orca, big or small they are coming for you all. Well, not humans, they don’t eat junk food.