What’s going on here?
Orca attacks on boats have been on the rise, and are currently at a seasonal peak. The attacks mainly occur in the Strait of Gibraltar: the strip of ocean separating Spain from Africa, but Scotland’s first attack was just reported.
What does this mean?
The attacks involve multiple orcas circling and ramming boats. Following the incidents, boats are left with destroyed or missing rudders, and three have sunk completely. Orcas are highly intelligent, social and difficult to study. Two main theories may explain this unusual behaviour, which was first recorded in 2020.
The first theory is that the behaviour started following one individual’s bad interaction with a boat. Namely, a pregnant female Orca called White Gladis. The second theory is that they are behaving this way for fun: as naturally playful and inquisitive animals, the orcas have made an activity out of removing the boats’ rudders. This seems to be the aim, as the interaction ends once the rudder is destroyed.
Whatever the reason, the behavior is being “taught” to juveniles who learn from older females in the pod. But the trend can also spread amongst adults, as a “culture”. Considering the high distances that orcas travel, this may explain why the same thing is happening now in Scotland.
Why should we care?
Orcas are a critically endangered marine mammal, threatened by overfishing, marine pollution and entanglement in fishing gear. They have gained a negative reputation for their nature as marine predators, hence the name “Killer whale”. There are concerns that these recent attacks on boats will add to that reputation and people will take harmful measures to protect boats.
The spike in Orca-boat interactions has gathered huge attention from the media. Since targeted boats tend to be yachts owned by million (or billion)-aires, the dynamic has been used as a metaphor to represent nature taking revenge on the rich.
· Read here about how the Cruising Association and Grupo Trabajo Orca Atlantica is responding to the incidents, highlighting the need for strong collaboration with the boating community and more research. Check out also their interactive map to see where attacks have been reported.
· Why the hate? From the Curious Archives check out the link between billionaires and climate.
· Read more about cultural trends in Orcas. Including a brief fad of wearing a dead salmon as a hat!