After another killer whale attack, scientists investigate why they are getting closer to boats

United Nations group of killer whales attacked a boat in the Mediterranean Sea that was going to compete in the Copa del Rey Mapfre sailing in Palma de Majorca, Spain. This episode adds to a series of events registered in the last months in the European coasts, as a result of which the experts detected a Behavior change in these animals and developed theories to explain the dangerous “unusual approaches”.

According to the organization GT Atlantic Orcawho works on the conservation of a subpopulation of killer whales in danger of extinction in the Iberian Peninsula, in the last three years there were more than 500 cases of interactions between these cetaceans with boats in Spain. However, on this occasion, the event occurred within the Mediterranean, while the others occurred at points in the atlantic ocean.

They will release Lolita, an orca that spent more than 50 years in captivity

Last May, three orcas they sank a sailboat near the Strait of Gibraltar, the most serious case reported so far in 2023. That time, the crew members who were going to Palma on the Kapote Third, the shipowner Ignacio González Camacho, had to take shelter in the municipality of Estepona to assess the damage; and information that fortunately no one was hurt.

A new killer whale attack

“We were laughing, talking and just as we were preparing dinner we suffered the attack. When I looked back there there was the orca, with the rudder from one place to another”, commented Santi Villagran, one of the crew members of the kapote in the middle AS. “We saw a group of three or four orcas, two watching and others acting, biting. They came and left after two minutes,” she explained.

According to his account, the crew is safe with no personal injuries. But they had to be towed by the Maritime Salvage since they had lost control of the boat

Killer whales

The aforementioned Spanish outlet said that this not the first ship who was going to be in the Copa del Rey de vela that is affected by an attack of orcas, since the privateer Jorge Durán, from the Villagarcía de Arousa yacht club, suffered a similar event off the city of Cádiz.

Orca attacks: what scientists say

After the news of this new episode was known, the Spanish scientists compared the interaction data in the last data to throw possible reasons about the behavior change of these mammals. “Before 2020 we already knew about approaches of orcas to boats of all kinds; but something would have to happen for them to they made this quantum leap to just get close to get close and touch the boats,” said biologist alfredo lopezmember of GT Atlantic Orca.

“We have two hypotheses. The first is that it was a self induced behavior (invented and repeated by orcas). But it didn’t close us because of the issue of adult orcas, so we made a second one. It says that that adult orca may have had a aggressive moment in the presence of a shipspecifically sailboat, and as a precaution the animal brakes the boat to prevent it from happening again her or another,” he said in a report for The country.

For his part, Jose Carlos Baez, from the Oceanographic Center of Malaga, argued that the underlying problem is “the tourist abuse” that is made of these animals. “They feel harassed, they don’t like the noise, the annoying ones,” they stressed, while adding that they may also see the ships as “sources of resources, like food,” so the attacks could be for consumption.

Finally, both professionals state that they believe that this behavior will not spread to other orca populations nor will it continue in time. “Orcas are a single species worldwide. They are divided into populations and, in turn, into subpopulations, which create their own culture, with their language and customs. If the Iberian orcas come into contact with the Canadian ones, it is possible that they will not repeat this behavior,” said Dr. López.

Báez, meanwhile, concluded by saying that these cetaceans have deep cognitive abilities and “just like this abrupt change has occurred” it can also be reversed.