Numerous cases of Orcas ramming boats in the Gibraltar Strait near Spain and Portugal have been reported this summer, and some experts suggest that the orcas could be fighting back against perceived threats posed by fishing boats and other vessels. This type of behavior is very unusual for the species, which is typically known to be friendly and playful.
On July 29th, biology graduate Victoria Morris was on a sailboat off the coast of Spain when her crew was surrounded by a pod of about nine orcas. At first, the crew was interested to see such a strange natural phenomenon, but then the mood suddenly changed. The orcas began to aggressively ram into the boat in what seemed to be a coordinated attack.
“They just started surrounding us in a circle, coming for the rudder and the keel. They really just were going for us, and there was definitely no playing,” Morris said during a CBC interview.
The orcas kept up their assault for about an hour until they caused some serious damage to the boat. According to the Guardian, this incident is just one of four similar cases that took place this summer.
Morris believes that the orcas were communicating to coordinate their attack, or in her words, they “orca-strated” it. She says that she heard whistling sounds during the attack, which she believed to be the orcas communicating.
“It was like a whistle, like a very, very loud whistle, and there was lots of them, maybe about four or five of them were doing it at the same time. And it was just so loud,” she said. “It was actually quite amazing to hear,” Morris explained.
She said that when her crew called for help, “it was almost like they didn’t believe us at first.”
“They asked us to repeat a quite a few times. Like, ‘Can you confirm that you are actually under attack by orcas?” she said.
The crew was eventually rescued and towed into the nearby town Barbate, where shocked onlookers observed a boat covered in bite marks.
Marine biologist Jörn Selling has suggested that possibly the orcas became comfortable with the quieter waters during the pandemic restrictions, and are now disturbed by the increase in traffic now that businesses are slowly going back to normal.
Morris believes the orcas seemed to be fighting back against something, and she hopes that these encounters could raise some awareness about what this species is facing.
“They do have the capacity to be angry and they’re very, very intelligent creatures and so it is very possible. But if that is true, then, you know, something needs to be done. I think as bad as it is that all these attacks have been happening, especially to us, but I think in a way it’s also a good thing because it’s turned the spotlight on the fact that there is a problem. Something has changed that’s causing them to do this,” Morris said.
The Gibraltar orcas are endangered, and it is estimated that there are fewer than 50 of them remaining in the wild.