June 17, 2024

Mysterious orca attacks. The first orca attack on a sailing yacht in the North Sea

Orca attacked a sailing boat between Scotland and Norway. (Icon picture)

imago images / imagebroker

Orcas have been attacking sailboats off Portugal and Spain for several years now. Now a sailor is reporting the first attack in the North Sea. Aggressive behavior and how it is transmitted is a mystery to science.

a Orca attacked a sailing boat off the Shetland Islands in the North SeaBritish Guardian reports. An experienced Dutch skipper was alone on board, en route from the Shetlands to Bergen in Norway.

The animal repeatedly attacked the keel and stern of his seven-ton yacht. The retired physicist told the Guardian that he had heard about the “Portuguese attacks”. “What scared me most was the loud panting orca.” Maybe he just wanted to play or rip the fishing line that Skipper was using to catch mackerel.

Aggressive behavior is unusual but not new. Since 2020, killer whales have been throwing themselves at yachtsmen and often destroying their oars, which they also bite.

Traumatized orca female or play cubs?

But the attacks have so far focused on the Strait of Gibraltar and the Portuguese and northern Spanish Atlantic coasts. The researchers were able to trace the attacks back to a female. It is said that this was the first to attack sailing boats and render them unable to manoeuvre.

An orca cow may have had a traumatic experience with a boat is a hypothesis, but there is no evidence. Another attempt at explanation: the young animals are having fun and watching each other’s maneuvers.

Gradually, other animals of the same group adopted the behaviour. The Guardian wrote that an older woman often noticed the attacks from a distance.

It is in their nature for orcas to learn from each other. Their sophisticated tactics when hunting in groups are well known, Where they kill even great white sharks.

Previous orca attacks nearly 2000km away

The Shetland Islands, which belong to Scotland, are located off the Norwegian city of Bergen, about 2,000 kilometers north of Spain. Could the Iberian orcas pass on their behavior to those in the North Sea?

Connor Ryan, scientific advisor to the Hebrew Whale and Dolphin Trust, cautiously told the Guardian that he wouldn’t say it was impossible for northern orcas to learn this behavior from a southern population. There may have been a particularly mobile cabin that transported the attacking medium-sized schooners to the north.

In 2020, the Orca Iberica research project recorded 52 attacks on sailing boats. In 2021, there were 197, including one off Morocco. In 2022, the project counted 207 orca attacks off Spain and Portugal.