Scientists are confused – and presumably slightly concerned – about recent incidents of orcas ramming into boats along the coasts of Spain and Portugal.
Over the past couple of months, sailors have made several distress calls relating to killer whales, from southern to northern Spain.
In some cases, boats have lost their rudders and several have suffered serious damage. One crew member has also been left with bruises because of the ramming.
Let’s face it, the last thing anyone wants is to end up in the water with a killer whale – we’ve all seen Blackfish, right?
The last incident recorded happened on Friday afternoon off the coast of A Coruña in northern Spain.
Pete Green, the managing director of a yachting company called Halcyon Yachts, told The Guardian that the killer whales rammed the back of the vessel at least 15 times.
The yacht eventually lost the power to steer and had to be towed to port for damage assessment.
There have been orca sightings slightly further south, near Vigo, where there have been at least two recent collisions between boats and orcas.
At the end of August, a French boat radioed to the coastguard to say it was ‘under attack’. A Spanish boat called Mirfak was one of those that lost rudders to the bizarre attacks, as can be seen in the clip above.
So, why would they be doing this?
Well, killer whales are social mammals – the largest of the dolphin family – and can be curious about boats. However, they’re unlikely to attack vessels with this kind of force.
They work together, often with team tactics aimed at catching food, but this seems out of character.
The Spanish maritime authorities have said that this behaviour means sailors should ‘keep a distance’ from the animals.
That’s easier said than done if they’ve decided to ram the boat, however.
Scientists have admitted that the orcas behaviour is ‘highly unusual’ and ‘concerning’.
The motives behind it are not clear yet, but it could simply be that one pod of killer whales feels threatened and endangered, and is reacting under stress.
The scientists have also said it is unlikely that more than one pod is acting in this manner.
On 29 July, off Cape Trafalgar, Victoria Morris was aboard a delivery boat that became surrounded by nine orcas.
They crashing into the boat, spinning it around, breaking the engine and the rudder.
She claims that the animals communicated via loud whistling noises.
Morris said that the attack felt ‘totally orchestrated’.
Let’s hope that a solution can be found for both the animals and the sailors.