Killer whales appear to be teaching their young to attack boats in Europe, multiple eyewitnesses to the events report.
There have been dozens of orca attacks in the Strait of Gilbralter since 2020, in which the beasts ram boats, targeting their rudders and often causing serious damage.
Scientists now think one traumatized orca may have sparked the phenomenon.
A killer whale dubbed White Gladis by researchers may have endured a “critical moment of agony,” believed to be either a collision with a vessel or some sort of entrapment, then went on the attack, researcher Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal, told livescience.com.
“That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat,” López Fernandez told the outlet.
“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,” he added.
In one attack on May 4, three killer whales began ramming a yacht sailing inside the Strait of Gibraltar — and the incident was a family affair, according to skipper Werner Schaufelberger who spoke to the German website Yacht.
“There were two smaller and one larger orca … 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,” Schaufelberger said. “The two little orcas observed the bigger one’s technique and, with a slight run-up, they too slammed into the boat.” he added.
The crew had to be rescued by the Spanish coast guard while the boat was ultimately towed to port and later sunk.
In another incident this month a pod of six Killer Whales came after a sailboat in the strait. Passenger Greg Blackburn, told 9news that a mother whale appeared to be instructing her calf in the boat-ramming technique.
“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,” he said. “It was definitely some form of education, teaching going on.”
Though they are not dangerous to humans, boat attacks by orcas have become more prevalent in Spanish waters in recent years according to a June 2022 study reported in the journal Marine Mammal Science.
Between July and October 2020, there were at least 40 orca incidents involving sailboats in the area around Spain and Portugal, the Maritime Executive reported.
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