Orcas Have Started Ramming Boats, And Scientists Are Worried

Sometimes, animals display behaviors that are weirdly human. Most often, this can be a fluke, such as when a photographer manages to capture animals in an unusual pose, with hilarious results. But what happens when a species displays new behaviors time and time again that aren’t necessarily cute? Well, then things start to get a little disturbing.

The last few weeks have offered up a case in point. According to the Guardian, reports have recently emerged from the coasts of Spain and Portugal of repeated encounters with local orcas that have left both sailors and scientists “baffled.”

The latest incident occurred on Friday off the coast of A Coruña in northern Spain, when a vessel operated by Halcyon Yachts, chartered to sail to the UK, was struck a total of 15 times by a single orca, the largest species in the dolphin family, also known as a killer whale, that was popularized in the 1990s thanks to the hit Free Willy movie franchise. The boat suffered enough serious damage that it had to be towed back to a Spanish port to assess the damage.

But the attack is only one of many that have suddenly and without explanation become a regular occurrence in the region during the summer months.

Scientists are 'concerned' by this unusual orca behavior

Usually, sightings of orca ‘pods’ -– a group of the animals, which are highly intelligent and social -– are a cause for celebration for sailors and tourists. But after this sudden spate of attacks on vessels, scientists have advised sailors to keep a distance from the creatures as much as possible, and have described the behavior as “deeply unusual” and “concerning,” the Guardian reports. Typically, the animals follow boats in groups, which means boats have found it difficult to avoid coming into contact with them. 

The attacks, it seems, are orchestrated. On 29 July, it was reported that nine orcas surrounded a 46ft boat and proceeded to collectively ram it for over an hour, damaging both the engine and rudder and leaving the crew helplessly adrift. Other sailors have reported that the impact is so forceful that their yachts feel as though they are lifting from the water.

Scientists continue to investigate, but say that the behavior suggests stress among the local marine mammals’ endangered population.

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