Killer whales have been attacking sailboats in Europe

More and more sailors report how the whales rammed their boats and seriously damaged them. Researchers, however, are puzzled by the aggressive behaviour of the animals.

Orcas have been attacking sailboats in Europe
© Mike Doherty / Unsplash
Orcas have been attacking sailboats in Europe

Marine biologists have recorded an increase in encounters between boats and orcas in Atlantic waters, especially along the Spanish coast, in the last two years. The strange thing, however, is that there were virtually no sightings of orcas in these regions before 2020. The sudden accumulation of collisions with the animals, therefore, raises many questions.

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Orcas attack boats more often

Scientists have already come up with some theories to explain the attacks of the overzealous orcas, with boats being severely damaged 15-20% of the time. Another problem is that the orcas cannot be stopped by force, because they are on the list of endangered species and therefore enjoy special protection.

Orcas are a protected species  Mike Doherty / Unsplash

In an interview with the BBC, Scottish yacht owner Graeme Walker described his encounter with three orcas:

The boat would literally spin through 90 degrees when the animals came in.
When they actually bit on the rudder and started shaking the rudder the wheel was spinning from side to side.
You could not have touched it. You would have broken your arms.

Losing control of the rudder is a serious matter and can be dangerous in adverse conditions. Some sailboats had to be towed into the harbour after hurricanes destroyed their rudders. Fortunately, there was enough of Walker's rudder left to make it to the next harbour. In the worst case, only an SOS from his yacht could have helped.

Researchers may have found an explanation for the attacks

Some scientists now believe they know why the orcas started attacking boats off the European coast. After analysing the footage, they found that two of the whales were severely injured, which could be the reason for their behaviour.

The researchers told the Spanish news outlet, El Pais, that it was unclear whether the orcas were injured before or during the encounter with the boats. However, they could have felt threatened and therefore attacked pre-emptively.

Alfredo López, a biology professor at the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals (CEMMA), told the newspaper:

It is not revenge. They are only acting as a precaution. The Orca whales apparently did not intend to damage the boats.

It is common knowledge that animals feel threatened more quickly when they are injured and will attack seemingly unprovoked. Whether this is really the cause of the mysterious orca attacks, however, remains to be questioned. Further studies are needed to gain more clarity about the whales' strange behaviour.

This article was translated from Gentside DE.

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