Since July, orcas have been ramming yachts and boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal, damaging vessels and injuring sailors, which has left scientists baffled by their behavior according to The Guardian.
Orcas are highly intelligent, social, and curious mammals who are normally friendly towards humans and often follow boats closely. However, researchers say it is very unusual for orcas to show aggressive behavior and ram into boats.
In various accounts reported by The Guardian, two boats lost part of their rudders, at least one crew member was left injured, and several boats were seriously damaged. Crew members reported feeling like they were “under attack” and that the incidents seemed “totally orchestrated.”
“The noise was really scary. They were ramming the keel, there was this horrible echo, I thought they could capsize the boat. And this deafening noise as they communicated, whistling to each other. It was so loud that we had to shout,” said Victoria Morris, a biology graduate student who was aboard a ship in the Gibraltar Strait when the orcas struck.
Source: Guardian News/YouTube
At least one pod of orcas seems to be actively following boats in a “highly unusual” and “concerning” manner according to The Guardian. Scientists speculate that the behavior may indicate stress, not aggression, in a population that is endangered.
Around the world, orcas face intense noise and chemical pollution that weakens their immune systems and causes whale fertility problems. Whale-watching boats crowd the waters and often harass the animals. Fishing nets and lines frequently entangle and injure baby orcas.
Ezequiel Andréu Cazalla, a cetacean researcher, has described the Gibraltar Strait as “the worst place for orcas to live.”
In Strait, the whales compete with fishing boats for bluefin tuna, an endangered species, and lucrative catch for fishermen. The declining population of bluefin tuna has caused greater contact between orcas and humans as fishermen attack and hurt orcas in pursuit of the highly-prized tuna.
Some scientists even speculate that this new unusual behavior is a sort of retaliation from orcas after years of grieving lost calves, injuries, competition for resources, and pollution from human activity.
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