New report finds that killer whales aren’t attacking boats but are bored, playful teens

New study finds that killer whales aren’t attacking boats but are bored, playful teens

Over the last few years, orcas or killer whales have been seen causing damage to vessels along the Iberian Peninsula in Europe.

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A group of killer whales has been seen near Portugal, Morocco and Spain, ramming at least 673 vessels since 2020, according to The Washington Post.

A possible reason for the incidents has been a mystery until recently, when a group of experts who study orcas released a new report outlining why the orcas may have been ramming the boats, some of which were sunk. It also addresses how the incidents can be stopped, according to USA Today.

“The orcas just want to have fun, and in the vast — and rather empty — open waters, the boats’ rudders are a prime toy,” a hypothesis from the report suggested, according to the Post. The study is from a group of biologists, marine industry officials and government officials.

“This looks like play,” said Naomi Rose, a senior scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, according to the newspaper. “It’s a very dangerous game they’re playing, obviously. But it’s a game.”

The report was released a few weeks after the area experienced its first whale-related ramming of the season, USA Today reported.

“It starts in the spring, goes way off the charts in the summer and goes away in fall. That’s because the whales and boats are in the same area at the same time,” said Rose, who was part of the working group, according to the publication.

The first ramming this year took place on May 12, when orcas snuck up on a sailboat, hit its rudder and damaged it. It caused the sailboat to leak and sink, according to USA Today. El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, reported that two crew members who were on the sailboat were evacuated and ended up on an oil tanker nearby.

“As they play with the rudder, they don’t understand that they can damage the rudder and that damaging the rudder will affect human beings. It’s more playful than intentional,” said Alex Zerbini, who chairs the scientific committee at the International Whaling Commission, a global body focused on whale conservation, according to the Post.

Rose said that the orcas that are involved appear to be male juveniles and teens between the ages of five and 18, the newspaper reported.

Those involved in the report are working this summer to make rudders and boats less appealing to the orcas by possibly placing bumpy materials on the rudders or hanging weighted lines from the boats.

“We don’t want to see more boats being sunk and we don’t want to see people in distress,” Zerbini said, according to the Post. “But we also don’t want to see the animals being hurt. And we have to remember that this is their habitat and we’re in the way.”

You can read the full report here.

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