Are Killer Whales Life Threatening?


There is no record of an orca killing a human in the wild. Still, two boats were reportedly sunk by orcas off the coast of Portugal last month, in the worst such encounter since authorities have tracked them. That is a conundrum. Up to now, scientists have assumed that only a few animals are involved in these encounters and that they are all from the same pod, reports GPB.

Scientists don’t know the reason, but they have some ideas

Scientists hypothesize that orcas like the water pressure produced by a boat’s propeller. “What we think is that they’re asking to have the propeller in the face,” de Stephanis says. So, when they encounter a sailboat that isn’t running its engine, “they get kind of frustrated and that’s why they break the rudder.”

Even so, that doesn’t entirely explain an experience Martin Evans had last June when he was helping to deliver a sailboat from Ramsgate, England, to Greece.

About 25 miles off the coast of Spain, “just shy of entering the Strait of Gibraltar,” Evans and his crew mates were under sail, but they were also running the boat’s engine with the propeller being used to boost their speed.

As Evans was on watch, the steering wheel began moving so violently that he couldn’t hold on, he says.

I was like, ‘Jesus, what’s this?‘” he recalls. “It was like a bus was moving it. … I look to the side, and all of a sudden I could just see that familiar white and black of the killer whale.”

Evans noticed “chunks of the rudder on the surface.”

Jared Towers, the director of Bay Cetology, a research organization in British Columbia, says “there’s something about moving parts … that seem to stimulate them.”

Perhaps that’s why they’re focused on the rudders,” he says.

About the Orca

The population of orcas along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts is small and de Stephanis believes that the damage to boats is being done by just a few juvenile males.

If so, they may simply outgrow the behavior, de Stephanis says. As the young males get older, they will need to help the pod hunt for food and will have less time for playing with sailboats.

This is a game,” he speculates. “When they … have their own adult life, it will probably stop.”

Towers says such “games” tend to go in and out of fashion in orca society. For example, right now in a population he studies in the Pacific, “we have juvenile males who … often interact with prawn and crab traps,” he says. “That’s just been a fad for a few years.”

Back in the 1990s, for some orcas in the Pacific, something else was in vogue. “They’d kill fish and just swim around with this fish on their head,” Towers says. “We just don’t see that anymore.”

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Source: GPB


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