Killer Whales Attacked a Sailing Boat Near Spain and Researchers Are Mystified
Orcas attack boats and capsize them off the coast of Spain, according to researchers, it could be learned behavior. The local sea rescue service said Thursday that several killer whales had damaged a sailboat, adding to dozens of reported orca attacks off the coasts of Spain and Portugal this year.
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A sailboat was en route to Gibraltar in the early hours of Thursday when a group of orcas smashed through the boat’s hull and broke the rudder. A rapid-response vessel was deployed in support of the 66-foot British vessel, towing it to the port of Barbate in Cadiz province for repairs.
Orca encounters have been increasing since 2020, leading researchers to question why the orca, which was a historically peaceful mammal, suddenly began attacking sailing ships. But a researcher in Portugal thinks he has the answer.
Alfredo López Fernandez, a marine biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal, said the attacks could have come from an orca scientists are calling White Gladis as it experienced a “critical moment of agony” with a boat live science. “This traumatized orca is the one that triggered this behavior of physical contact with the boat,” he said, adding, “The orcas do this on purpose.” Other researchers, however, aren’t so sure.
Andrew W. Trites, professor and director of marine mammal research at the University of British Columbia, narrated CBS News that he doesn’t think the whales will retaliate. “I read that one of the adult women was triggered by something and she takes revenge and teaches the others to do the same by ramming ships and trying to sink them on purpose,” he said. “Ramming a ship makes as much sense as running full speed into a wall. You will get hurt.”
According to the research group, there were 207 reported interactions with orcas in the past year alone GTOA It also found there were 20 interactions this month in the Strait of Gibraltar, where the British ship was damaged on Thursday.
Monika Wieland Shields, director of the Orca Behavior Institute in Washington, said NBC News“I think it’s considered aggression because it’s harmful, but I don’t think we can say that the motivation is necessarily aggressive.”
Shields confirmed that orcas are generally gentle creatures and are not known to be aggressive toward humans, even when attacked and placed in captivity. “They certainly had reason to behave in that way,” she told the outlet. “There are places where they are shot at by fishermen, they witnessed family members from their groups being taken into captivity in the ’60s and ’70s. And if something led to outright aggression, I would think something like that would have done it.”
As researchers continue to speculate about the mysterious change in the orca’s behavior, the truth is: no one knows. “My idea, or what anyone would give you, is educated speculation,” Trites told CBS News. “It’s a complete mystery, unprecedented.”