Orcas, also called killer whales, are attacking boats, and young calves are learning to do the same, Live Science reported.
“The orcas are doing this on purpose, of course, we don’t know the origin or the motivation, but defensive behavior based on trauma, as the origin of all this, gains more strength for us every day,” Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal and representative of the Atlantic Orca Working Group told the outlet.
López Fernandez was referencing a worrisome run of attacks on boats in the Strait of Gibraltar. In one attack May 4, off the coast of Spain, a group of three orcas repeatedly rammed a craft and took aim at the rudder.
“The little ones shook the rudder at the back while the big one repeatedly backed up and rammed the ship with full force from the side,” skipper Werner Schaufelberger told Yacht, a German publication, as reported by Live Science.
Schaufelberger and his crew were rescued by members of the Spanish coast guard, but the boat sank at the entrance to the port.
Just two days before the attack on Schaufelberger’s yacht, experienced sailor Greg Blackburn from Leeds in the United Kingdom tangled with six of the apex predators, Australia’s 9 News reported.
Greg Blackburn told the outlet the encounter near Tangier did not feel malicious.
“You can see in one of the videos the matriarch coming up and attacking the rudder with calf at side of her, then she drops back and then the little calf gets in to have a go,” Blackburn said.
“It was definitely some form of education going on,” he added.
The “education” caused an estimated $8,000 to $9,000 worth of damage to Blackburn’s vessel, including damage to the rudder and two snapped helm chains.
A British couple on the 46-foot Bavaria completing a sailing course praised the skipper’s calmness during the hour-long attack. The fact that winds were clocked at 25-30 knots that day made matters worse.
“Orcas enjoy the thrill of the chase, so ideally we’d have kept still, but that wasn’t possible because of the winds.”
Most encounters with orcas are harmless, López Fernandez told Live Science. The spike in aggression is a more recent phenomenon.
According to López Fernandez, a “critical moment of agony,” such as a collision with a boat, may have flipped a behavioral switch. The behavior of that single orca may have been picked up and reproduced by others, simply by imitation.
Another theory posed by ocra researcher Deborah Giles is that the interaction with the boats may be a form of play as opposed to aggression.
Watch video from the Daily Mail below of a pod of six orcas attacking a yacht for about an hour off the coast of Morocco.
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