Orcas Suspected of Teaching New Boat Attack Techniques
Observers and sailors are speculating that orcas may be teaching new ways of attacking boats, following a series of coordinated incidents off the coast of Europe. Sailors have reported at least 15 human-orca encounters in 2020, with many attacks targeting the rudders of sailboats. However, no casualties have been reported.
On May 22, a group of six orcas attacked a 26-foot vessel near the Strait of Gibraltar, causing severe damage to the boat’s rudders. The sailors reported that two larger adults and four smaller orcas were involved in the attack. Sailors have also reported a nighttime attack on May 4, when three orcas sank a Swiss yacht named Champagne also sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Scientists believe that aggressive incidents may have been started by a female orca known as “White Gladis,” who may have suffered a traumatic injury, such as a boat collision. This injury appears to have triggered a behavioural switch, which other killer whales learned to imitate.
According to a biologist at the University of Aviero, killer whales touch only one out of every hundred ships that pass through their territory. However, their sophisticated learning abilities mean that imitation is significant, thus leading to the hypothesis that orcas may be teaching each other how to target boats more effectively.
Recent studies have found that orcas have sophisticated learning abilities, which enable them to learn by imitation. These studies also provide insights into the potential consequences of human-induced changes to orcas’ habitats that could affect their behaviour and threaten human safety.