The ecotourism industry took a hit, as cage-diving with great whites is a big draw. Local shark naturalist Dickie Chivell, who Shark Week fans will remember riding the female great white decoy Parthenope in 2014's Air Jaws: Fin of Fury and the inverted sled HORNET in 2015's Air Jaws: Walking with Great Whites, describes the empty waters as "truly one of the weirdest times of my life." He was involved with retrieving the dead sharks and examining them. Like other experts, he quickly suspected orcas: He knows great whites have been scared off by orcas before, and orcas have been filmed preying on different shark species elsewhere and are known to target certain organs of certain animals ("Like with gray whales, they'll only eat the tongue," he says).
He actually dived with Port and Starboard in May 2017, before that month's trio of attacks. "You see this truly majestic, beautiful, intelligent animal. Then on the other side, you know exactly why they're in your area and what they're capable of," he says.
The duo was tracked up and down the coast. "Everywhere they went, the sharks seemed to take off," Kurr says. "There was a time when we were actually worried about the future of great whites in South Africa, because we had spoken to several orca experts who told us that when these orcas become fixated on great white sharks, they won't stop until all the great white sharks are gone."
As Chivell points out, it's impossible to know the orcas' full body count: "White sharks actually sink when they're dead. So the fact that we found these white sharks doesn't mean that those are the total of white sharks that were killed. A lot could have been killed around the island system that just sank and we never found them."
For Chris Fallows, the renowned photographer who first captured great whites breaching in South Africa and remains the face of Air Jaws, following those orcas was a strange experience.
"I love orcas, and I don't think there's any more capable predator on Earth. They have incredible teamwork. They're able to figure out a situation, where a white shark is more an instinctual hunter," he says. "But when you see these two orcas that you know are actually killing great white sharks, which are in a lot of trouble just because their numbers are so low and it's also an apex predator, it's very much a bittersweet moment." (Not to mention the fact that a leading orca behaviorist believes humans are likely responsible for whatever trauma caused the orcas' dorsal fins to weaken -- were they shot at? were they entangled? -- and perhaps put great whites on their diet as easy prey.)