The key to the merpanther is a predator-prey relationship. Let's say we have a sleek but powerful big cat who preys on primates. Fair enough, happens a lot where big cats coexist with primates, right? Let's take this further-the big cat in question is unusually intelligent and spends a lot of time in water. In fact, it has evolved into a pack hunter with an unusual water-centered hunting strategy.
You see, while monkeys can swim, they're not built for it any more than we are. They don't do too well in the water, and since the big cats have adapted into amphibious creatures, they take advantage of this by ambushing their prey at or from rivers and lakes.
In order to survive, these primates will either become good at hiding or adapt to water themselves. Let's say the latter happens; it's theoretically possible, so not too much of a leap there. Over millions of years, the primates evolved into merpeople, but alas! The big cats evolved alongside them.
These merpanther's hunting tactics will feature three things: camouflage, speed, stealth, and opportunism. They will be hard to spot, actively avoid detection methods like sonar, and be fast enough to catch prey unawares and (hopefully) flee before the victim's friends (if they have friends around) can attack them.
Opportunism will be equally important-if these things focus exclusively on eating merpeople, chances are that they'll be driven extinct. So they'll need to be smart, targeting lone individuals or groups of obviously vulnerable merpeople.
Unless....there is a slight chance that the merpeople will view the merpanthers as divine, a manifestation of divine rage or instrument of punishment, or have gained a sort of 'sacrificial altruism' that causes certain members of a 'pod' to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the group as a whole.
As a result, the merpanthers may be able to get free meals, but that's horribly unlikely.