Orcas, for whatever reason, are now launching coordinated attacks on sailing vessels. This is very strange behavior and has researchers baffled.
These recent reports of orcas attacking boats are crazy and kind of scary. So, apparently orcas are ramming and harassing boats as coordinated attacks along the coasts of Spain and Portugal.
Over the past two months numerous distress calls have been issued from sailing vessels traveling along the Strait of Gibraltar to Galicia. These reports include boats losing parts of rudders, crew members sustaining bruises and even dragging a vessel along.
Sometimes the damage caused by these orcas has been serious enough to require to require being towed back to port. This behavior has scientists baffled as they search for explanations.
Watch this scary video clip of an actual Orca Attack while it is occurring off the coast of Portugal.
Read below or watch the video below for more detail about these strange attacks:
In one instance, a 46-foot delivery boat was surrounded by nine orcas off Cape Trafalgar in Spain. The whales, that can weight up to six tons, rammed the boat continuously for one hour, causing it to spin 180 degrees and the engine to shut down, according to crew member Victoria Morris.
Morris told the Observer that the attack, which happened on July 28, felt “totally orchestrated.”
“The noise was really scary. They were ramming the keel, there was this horrible echo, I thought they could capsize the boat,” Morris said. “And this deafening noise as they communicated, whistling to each other. It was so loud that we had to shout.”
The orca pod had left by the time help arrived, but the boat still had to be towed to a nearby town called Barbate. Crew members later found the rudder missing its bottom layers and teeth marks along the underside of the ship.
Several days prior, a man was motor sailing alone off Barbate when he heard a sound “like a sledgehammer” and saw his wheel “turning with incredible force.” Nick Giles told the Guardian that his 34-foot Moody yacht spun 180 degrees as he felt it lift up.
Giles said he was pushed around without steering for approximately 15 minutes.
“The boat lifted up half a foot and I was pushed by a second whale from behind,” he said, according to the Observer. While the sailor was resetting the cables, the orca hit again, “nearly chopping off my fingers in the mechanism.”
In a similar instance, a crew member from another delivery boat near Barbate told the port authority said the force of the orcas hitting the ship “nearly dislocated the helmsman’s shoulder and spun the whole yacht through 120 degrees,” according to the Observer.
Naturally, researchers are a bit puzzled by these orca’s recent behavior. They acknowledge that orcas are highly social, playful and curious. However, they emphasize that it is unnatural for orcas to become aggressive.
Gibraltar orcas are endangered and struggling in the noisy, polluted and food scarce waters in the area. These orcas return to the area to hunt Bluefin tuna. Bluefin tuna was once very plentiful in the area until over fishing caused the near-collapse of the local Bluefin tuna population.
Who knows, but scientists speculate that orcas ramming vessels is the result of stress originating from nets and long fishing lines found along the Straits.
A bit more research has been done since our original post. As a result scientists now suspect strongly that these attacks by orcas are retaliatory attacks. They have even identified three of the five Orcas involved in the attacks. Three of the orcas involved in about 61% of the attacks are juvenile orcas that were recently injured by passing boats and/or long fishing lines.
The following illustration by the International Working Group of Atlantic Orcas/Tokio/Turmares Tarifa/Rafael Fernández maps the injuries sustained by the orcas involved in these incidents.
The three juveniles, named Gladis Black, Gladis White, and Gladis Grey, are known to the team. Photographic evidence suggests two of them—Gladis Black and Gladis White—experienced a succession of physical injuries between June 20 and August 3. The team mapped the injuries and identified wounds likely caused by run-ins with boats. These injuries were the result of the orcas ramming into passing boats, but the team says some of these injuries could’ve been caused by them trying to snatch tuna from long fishing lines.
Juvenile orcas are “commonly observed approaching boats of various kinds, likely due to their curiosity,” according to the experts. The stern is “especially attractive for cetaceans in general, and for orcas in particular,” as they contain “mobile and noisy structures.” That said, the encounters since July are “considered unprecedented due to the repeated physical contact of the specimens with the structure of the ships,” as the biologists explained in the statement.
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