Killer whales' attacks on the ships and people increase near the coasts of Spain and Portugal

Killer whales' attacks on the ships and people increase near the coasts of Spain and Portugal

15 September , 12:23Incidents
Scientists are puzzled by the growing number of incidents involving killer whales: since the end of July the aggressive flocks have increasingly attacked the yachts.

Irina Ziganshina

During the collisions, one person received physical injuries, several - a mental shock, not to mention the damaged ships. Experts say it's natural for highly intelligent mammals like killer whales to follow small boats, but such aggressive behavior goes beyond the norm, The Guardian reports.

The latest attack took place on Friday off the northern coast of Spain, near La Coruna: a 36-foot yacht sailing towards the UK was rammed 15 times, lost control and had to be towed back to the harbor.

Two weeks earlier, in the same place, in Galicia, two more ships were attacked: the crew of one contacted the coast guard by radio, saying that it was "attacked", and the other lost part of the rudder.

The first aggressive clashes occurred in late July, when the 46-foot cargo ship was met by nine unfriendly killer whales: the animals rammed the ship for more than an hour, turning it 180 degrees. As a result, the engine and rudder were out of order, teeth marks were left on the hull, and the crew of four was forced to drift in the Strait of Gibraltar. “The noise was terrible. They rammed the keel so much that I thought the boat would capsize, ”said the girl who piloted the boat. "And this deafening noise, when they communicated with the whistle, was so loud that we had to shout to hear each other".

A member of the crew of another ship, who was attacked on his 34-foot yacht the day before, talked about the rumble, "like the blows of a sledgehammer" and how the steering wheel suddenly began to rotate with incredible force before his eyes, and the ship began to turn 180 degrees... The boat lifted, and for 15 minutes it was carried forward without steering.

Killer whale experts think this is all very strange, but it is unlikely that these were deliberate attacks. Most likely, the aggression was caused by stress: it is known that populations of killer whales face numerous threats from humans. According to estimates, there are no more than five dozen Gibraltar killer whales left, they are under threat of extinction. There is less food in the ocean: the population of Pacific bluefin tuna is also steadily declining, and killer whales are forced to enter the strait, where they face competition from fishing people.

Center for Whale Research specialist Ken Balcomb says: “They are very smart. I saw how they look at the boats carrying fish: I think they know that there are people there, and these people are somehow connected with the lack of food. They probably realize that the lack of food causes them physical distress and leads to the loss of cubs.

Another expert, a marine biologist at the Firmm whale watching and research foundation, Jorn Selling, believes that the reason for the attacks is different: after several months of the pandemic, during which the level of noise in the ocean was lower than ever, killer whales may be angry with the return of people.

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