Scientists think that an orca injured by a boat collision begins to attack the boat, and that this behavior is spreading through the orca population through social learning.
to report Live Sciencethree orcas (Orcinus orca), also known as killer whales, hit a sailboat and pierced its rudder in the Strait of Gibraltar on the coast of Spain on the night of May 4th. “They were two smaller orcas and one larger orca,” said Captain Werner Schuffelberger. The smaller orcas rocked the boat’s rudder, while the big orca slammed into it from the side with all its might.”
Schuffelberger said the smaller orcas mimicked the larger orca: “The two smaller orcas saw the way the big orca was doing and imitated him, slamming themselves into the boat.” The Spanish Coast Guard rescued the crew and took the boat to Barbate, but it sank near the port.
Two days earlier, a group of 6 orcas attacked another yacht that was moving in the strait. According to Greg Blackburn, who was on the boat, the mother orca appeared to be teaching her young how to target the rudder. “There was definitely some kind of training going on,” he said.
According to a study published in June 2022 Journal of Marine Mammal Science Published, reports of aggressive orca encounters off the Iberian coast began in May 2020 and have been steadily increasing.
Most of the attacks on sailboats seem to follow a clear pattern, with the orcas approaching from the stern and hitting the rudder, then stopping when the boat is stopped. “Reports of these interactions have been consistent since 2020 in places where orcas are found, in Galicia or in the strait,” said Alfredo López Fernández, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal and one of the authors of the paper.
“Most encounters have been harmless,” López Fernandez told LiveScience in an email. In more than 500 interaction events recorded since 2020, there have been only three cases of sunken boats. “We estimate that killer whales collide with only one ship out of every hundred that pass by.”
López Fernández said the increase in attacks on boats is not a new phenomenon. The researchers think that the traumatic event may have caused an orca to change its behavior and the rest of the population learned to imitate it. “Orcas do this on purpose,” López Fernandez said. Of course, we don’t know the origin or motivation of this behavior, but every day the hypothesis of defensive behavior due to injury is getting stronger.”
Experts believe that the female orca, which is called White Gladys, was injured by an accident such as being hit by a boat or caught in a fishing trap and started this behavior.
According to a 2022 study, orcas are social creatures that can easily learn and imitate the behavior of others. In most reported cases, orcas make a beeline for the boat’s rudder and bite, bend or break it. “Our interpretation is not that the orcas taught the younger ones,” López Fernandez said. Although this behavior is spread vertically and only in the course of imitation, to younger members and then spread horizontally among them; Because they consider it important in their lives.”
“Despite the danger they face as a result of the boat collision, the orcas seem to find this behavior beneficial,” López Fernandez added.