killer whales
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
September 14, 2020 ·  4 min read

A pod of killer ‘crazy’ killer whales launched coordinated attacks on boats, terrifying the sailors and baffling scientists

In an uncharacteristic pattern of behavior, there seems to be a pod of orcas attacking boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal. The killer whale attacks are absolutely terrifying and appear as though they are orchestrated.

Killer Whale Attacks on Boats

Scientists are stunned at the recent attacks by pods of orcas on boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal, in the Gibraltar Strait. The attacks have occurred over the last two months and appear to be an orchestrated effort from the pod. (1)

On July 28, a pod of nine killer whales surrounded a 46-foot delivery boat, ramming the boat without rest for an hour. The attack caused the boat to spin 180 degrees in the water and the engine to shut down. The boat had to be towed to the nearby town of Barbate. (1)

“The noise was really scary,”  Crew member Victoria Morris recalled. “They were ramming the keel, there was this horrible echo, I thought they could capsize the boat. And this deafening noise as they communicated, whistling to each other. It was so loud that we had to shout.” (1)

The rudder was damaged and teeth marks were found on the bottom side of the boat. (1)

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Not a Solitary Incident

A few days prior to the July 28 attack, a man was sailing his 34-moody yacht alone when he was attacked. His boat was also spun around a full 180 degrees and was lifted up out of the water several times. (1)

“The boat lifted up half a foot and I was pushed by a second whale from behind,” he said. (1)

The man was not overly hurt, though he did nearly lose his fingers while attempting to reset the cables just when one of the whales rammed into the boat. (1)

In a similar attack on another delivery boat, one of the sailor’s shoulders was nearly dislocated when a whale hit the boat so hard that it spun 120 degrees in the water. (1)

Another couple was sailing through the strait in their 50-foot boat when they were attacked. For about 20 minutes the orcas kept spinning their boat around, doing some serious damage to their rudder. (2)

“I had this weird sensation,” they said, “like they were trying to lift the boat.” (2)

Read: This Man Was Only Filming Seagulls, but He Suddenly Captures an Incredible Once-In-A Lifetime Scene

Unusual Behavior

Orcas, much like dolphins, are highly social, curious, and playful animals. It is not uncommon for them to follow along with boats and swim close to the rudder. Sometimes as part of a game, they will even bite onto the rudder so the boat will drag them in the water, however they never bite hard enough to do any damage. (2)

According to Rocio Espada, who works with the marine biology lab at the University of Seville, says that this aggression is not normal and could signify stress. Orcas in the Gibraltar Strait are often in competition with the fishing boats for food. The waters in the strait are busy and polluted, and the whales who live there are endangered because of it. (2)

Despite all of this, the orcas come to the strait for bluefin tuna, which also happens to be a prized fish for humans. Overfishing of this tuna between 2005 and 2010 has severely affected the orca population, with only approximately 30 adult whales left. (1, 2)

Survival Instincts

Since 1999, two out of the five pods who come to the strait have learned to actually take the fish from the fishermen’s drop lines. This is dangerous for the orcas and has led to serious injuries and even death of some whales. Some of these injuries are accidental, but some are certain to be violent retaliation by fishermen. (2)

COVID Related?

Harassment like this has been seen for decades in the orca populations. During the coronavirus lockdown, however, the waters of the strait were nearly silent while most everything was shut down. For two months, the orcas lived in this noise-reduced environment, something none of them have ever experienced. Some scientists have theorized that perhaps this pod is angry at the noise returning. (2)

While there is still much for us to learn about orcas, one thing scientists seem to agree on is that this pod, in particular, seems, well, rather pissed. Whether it’s the years of harassment, loss of calves, and noise in their environment, more needs to be done to determine why they are acting this way and what we can do to make peace. (2)

Keep Reading: Blue Whales Have ‘Unprecedented’ Bounce Back From Brink Of Extinction