The strange behavior of orcas on the waters around the Iberian Peninsula has raised concern among scientists. Several incidents have been reported, with orcas attacking vessels and causing serious damage in an unprecedented fashion.
Over the last two months, sailors have reported worrying encounters with orcas, with two boats losing part of their rudders, a crew member suffering bruising from the impact and several boats sustaining severe damage. Spanish maritime authorities are asking vessels to keep a distance with the orcas to avoid any danger.
The latest episode occurred last week. The 36-foot sailboat Beautiful Dreamer, from the Halcyon Yachts company, was hit at least 15 times by several orcas until it lost its way and had to be towed to port. With three crew members of Finnish and British nationality, the boat had just left the port of Ferrol.
Earlier, on August 30, a distress call was recorded from a French-flagged ship claiming to be “under attack” by orcas. Also that day, the crew of the Mirfak sports sailboat, of the Spanish Navy, was surprised by the cetaceans, for reasons that are unknown, when they were sailing to participate in the Princes of Asturias regatta.
It is not uncommon to see orcas in the waters of the Iberian Peninsula between late August and early September, swimming behind shoals of tuna. What is strange is that they come so close to the boats, and more so with the violence of the episodes recorded in recent months, leaving researchers with open questions. While it’s still speculative, the orcas seem to be organizing the attacks on fishing vessels.
Orcas, the largest species in the dolphin family, are highly intelligent social mammals. They can be curious and follow a boat closely, but never with the force registered lately. While the answer isn’t clear yet, researchers believe the attacks could be related to the stress suffered by orcas by human activity in recent years.
Ken Balcomb, from the Whale Research Center, based in Washington, told RT this aggressiveness towards humans could be related to fishing and driven by the actions of fishermen, who also injure these animals with the fishing line when they try to feed on tuna. “I saw them [orcas] look at boats carrying fish. I think they know that humans are somehow related to food shortages,” said Balcomb.
The orcas of Gibraltar are in danger of extinction and it is estimated that there are only about 50 specimens left in the area. Their main source of food is tuna, the quantity of which is increasingly reduced by human fishing practices. In addition, the Strait of Gibraltar is considered by researchers as one of the worst places for the inhabitants of the ocean, since it is an important marine route, highly polluted, and with a lot of boat traffic.
But orcas have lived in such conditions for years and rarely attack people. Balcomb believes that the pandemic could have influenced the recent incidents, although this too is speculative. The absence, for two months, of fishing, whale watching, sailboats and sea ferries reduced the noise level to produce calm and tranquility in these animals. But the restart of all these activities, and with it the noise, could have caused the anger and aggressiveness.