Renaud and Ruth used to work together on orca research; Renaud has been studying this population of killer whales since the 1990s. At one point, one of the larger animals came right to the stern and flipped onto its back – you could see its bright white underside.”. A group of scientists investigating a spate of attacks by orcas on yachts off the coast of Spain in recent months has said their unprecedented behaviour may be a … Scientists and those who are used to sailing the Gibraltar Straits are baffled and concerned about recent attacks on boats in the area by pods (or possibly a particular pod) of orca, The Guardian reported. Read about our approach to external linking. © Autonomous Nonprofit Organization “TV-Novosti”, 2005–2021. Forget Jaws — this time it’s personal … for orcas. Pods of orcas have been attacking boats, causing damage. “If that fractures, you’re really in trouble,” he says. But one killer whale, a large male called Tilikum who spent most of his life at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, brought the issue global headlines when he was involved in the deaths of three people. A female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound west of Seattle. “But touching them and causing damage? The two scientists are now part of a group carrying out an informal investigation into this strange, potentially dangerous behaviour. Ruth does not give much credence to the idea of vengeful orcas. She and the other researchers worry that these descriptions could be a step in a slippery journey towards persecution of critically endangered orcas. Finally, after two hours, as unexpectedly as it started, it all went quiet. In late July, Morris was crewing a 46-ft delivery boat in Spain when nine orcas surrounded her. A marine investigation is ongoing into a spate of attacks by rogue Killer Whales on sailboats in the Atlantic. “In some cases they can move the whole boat with it. As investigations into the spate of attacks continue, Spanish authorities are warning sailors to keep their distance from orca pods. The crew moved the boat closer to the coast - back within radio range. Ya han sufrido acometida un velero francés y otro de la Armada sin daños mayores #SeguridadNautica (foto no referida al caso) pic.twitter.com/QmHdxAKHKZ. News reports of orcas attacking boats off the coast of Spain emerged at the start of September, with encounters having started as early as July. And, as the bluefin gradually recovered, so did the killer whales. While Renaud still rejects the idea of vengeful orcas - or even that the killer whales want to damage the boats at all - he cites decades of research when he suggests this could be part of a cultural shift that is actually helping the animals to survive. They were ramming the keel, there was this horrible echo, I thought they could capsize the boat,” Morris said. “These killer whales are always curious around boats, they will approach them,” she tells me. This photo and video line-up showed that three individuals were involved in most of the incidents: juvenile males named in the official orca record as black Gladis, white Gladis and grey Gladis. “I just didn’t believe it at all at first,” says Dr Ruth Esteban, a softly spoken marine scientist who chooses her words carefully, not keen to speculate about something as multi-faceted and complex as orca behaviour. They compared footage of the incidents to a catalogue of images captured and used by CIRCE to identify the animals. As top predators, aggression, dominance and shows of strength are likely to be key elements of any formative “play”. They don’t just see the world, they hear it, echolocating and building a picture of their world based on a stream of visual and acoustic information that is all processed at the same time. Se movilizó la LS Langosteira de #CruzRoja que lo remolcó hasta Cedeira pic.twitter.com/2lKKQMOQd5, Os mostramos otro vídeo grabado por el velero Urki I de madrugada. “They always seem to go for the rudder, and I think that’s because it’s a mobile part of the vessel,” Ruth explains. Lori thinks we set ourselves up to misunderstand the species entirely by trying to lump their behaviour into simple categories like good or bad, aggressive or playful. The giant mammals traveled alongside the boat in San Sebastian Credit: Newsflash. Heavy boat traffic along the Iberian coastline and severe overfishing in the region may have caused additional stress to the animals, which are usually known to be more curious and playful than aggressive during encounters with humans. Michael thinks there is something fundamental about our mentality around big predators. “It was continuous,” he says. One sailor said that the attacks felt orchestrated, while another described it as if a sledgehammer had struck their boat. As the wheel spun back and forth, he thought the animals might be about to dislodge the rudder stock - a steering column through the hull of the boat. “Parts of their brains - like the limbic system that you can think of as the emotional processor - they share with us,” she explains. “It’s getting worse and worse,” says Dr Renaud de Stephanis, another biologist involved in the investigation. The only other encounter he had had with an orca was more than 20 years ago in a Vancouver aquarium, but he was in no doubt that he was looking at a group of killer whales. Later that same day, a Spanish naval yacht, Mirfak, lost part of its rudder after an encounter with orcas. Ruth says the language used in news stories and social media posts - even by the coastguard - has been adversarial and loaded. But when killer whales play, it can be frightening. Spain has suspended yachting off its north-west coast after a series of attacks by orcas ramming into sailing boats in the Atlantic. “But we don’t want to call it an attack. Their survival remains precarious. “It was really scary for the people, I can understand that,” says Ruth. “I looked at this animal - and it was jet black and brilliant white.”. “The noise was really scary. I just thought people were scared and were misinterpreting what was happening.”. Since killer whales learn from each other, the young animals in that pod learned the same trick. “But these guys, they are playing,” he says of the recent encounters between orcas and boats. Fellow sailor, 31-year-old Spaniard Alfonso Gomez-Jordana Martin, reported a similar experience less than a week prior, when a pod of four orcas attacked his 40-foot boat for over an hour and “nearly dislocated the helmsman’s shoulder and spun the whole yacht through 120 degrees.”. “They can weigh 4-5 tonnes and when they play they really play,” says Renaud. Sailor Victoria Morris described what she dubbed an "orchestrated" attack by a group of nine orcas which surrounded her boat and rammed it for over an hour. Behind international headlines about “rogue killer whales”, “orchestrated” orca attacks and the videos shared thousands of times on social media, there is a forensic marine science investigation that is still trying to work out what is driving these complex, intelligent and highly social marine mammals to behave in this way. The biological puzzle of why this is happening remains an important one to solve. In the past six months there have been at least 40 reported incidents involving orcas off the coasts of Spain and Portugal. And they were behaving very strangely. For some two hours, a group of killer whales rammed the underside of the 45ft (13.7m) yacht he was sailing off the coast of Portugal. A ROGUE orca pod is carrying out revenge a ttacks on boats following a harpoon strike by poachers, an expert has warned. An hour before sunset, one of the crew called out. Killer whales orchestrating revenge attacks on boats off Spain Radioaviso en Rías Bajas por avistamiento de orcas en zona. No sound for five minutes, then nothing for 10. Se solicita a embarcaciones que no intenten aproximarse, den amplio resguardo e informen. Be as “uninteresting” as possible, they said. The encounter is one of at least 40 similar incidents in the area. “They were right at the back of the boat.”. La salvamar Betelgeuse remolca hacia A Coruña al último velero afectado por las acometidas de las orcas , el británico Aliana. Experts who study some of the most intractable human-wildlife conflicts in the world, where people may feel their lives are threatened by the proximity of large predators and that their only option is to kill them, have pointed to the role of “provocative language” in fuelling these situations. When they reached Gibraltar to carry out a more thorough check for damage, their boat became another piece of evidence in the ongoing investigation. So orca behaviour that looks like anger, grief or joy is “probably exactly what they’re experiencing”. But has our overfishing pushed the younger orcas towards playing with boats? “From what I’m seeing, it’s mainly two of those guys [the Gladises] in particular that are just going crazy,” he says. “I've seen these orcas grow from babies, I know their life stories, I've never seen or heard of attacks,” University of Seville marine biologist Rocio Espada said. Through his conservation research organisation, CIRCE, he carried out work that helped the animals garner their officially protected status. Groups of killer whales have been reported attacking boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal over the past few months, targeting sailboats from the Strait of Gibraltar in the southern Iberian peninsula to Galicia on Spain's northwestern Atlantic coast. “After about an hour, we were confident they’d left us.”. Baffled scientists are trying to work out why killer whales seem to have declared war on Spanish fishing boats. A mysterious spate of attacks by orca whales on boats off Spain's coast has prompted authorities to ban people setting sail from the country's northwestern tip. “He said: ‘It looks like we have some large dolphins,’” recalls David. That crew also reported the animals bit off part of the rudder. Have they seen mothers and grandmothers taking tuna from long lines and put their own adolescent spin on that family tradition? Orcas each have a uniquely shaped pale grey saddle patch behind their dorsal fin, which from the surface serves as a killer whale “fingerprint”. Killer whale pods have been attacking boats in Spain and Portugal since July (Credit: Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility, and Urban Agenda) Killer whales, or orcas, are the largest members of the oceanic dolphin family. It led the Portuguese coastguard to ban small sailing vessels from a stretch of sea where some of the incidents had been reported. Renaud has seen signs of concerning behaviour whilst out on his own boat. Although the majority of orcas ignore boats at sea, there are a few in northern Spain that are apparently interested in ramming into them, setting off a string of questions and a bit of apprehension. We call it an interaction.”. Victoria Morris was on a 46-foot boat in Spain on July 29 when an orca attacked the vessel. There are published accounts of the animals smacking seabirds with their flippers and repeatedly catching and releasing them in their mouths. “I’ve seen them hunting,” says Renaud. In August, a French-flagged vessel radioed the coastguard to say it was “under attack” from killer whales. They’re capable of cruelty, they’re capable of kindness, they’re capable of all kinds of things just like humans. By Elian Peltier Sept. 20, 2020 En pocas horas han sido 3 las embarcaciones dañadas pic.twitter.com/Brxllh45YU. In September, the researchers started gathering evidence. Others will work together to hunt other, sometimes much larger, whales. Multiple injuries have been reported, as well as significant damage inflicted on sailboats, many of which required rescue and had to be towed to shore for repairs. Groups of killer whales have been reported attacking boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal over the past few months, targeting sailboats from the Strait of Gibraltar in the southern Iberian peninsula to Galicia on Spain's northwestern Atlantic coast. SAILING has been banned on a stretch of Spain’s northern coastline after killer whales badly battered boats in the area sparking fears for crew's safety. “There could be an element of play, there could be an element of aggression - of trying to prove themselves.”. Orcas then dived under the craft before commencing to bump and spin the yachts. It just seems to be something they really like and that’s it.”. For millennia they have pursued their favourite prey, bluefin tuna, as the fish migrate along the hundreds of miles of Portuguese and Spanish coast, and through the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, to breed in warmer Mediterranean waters. Other species can be targets of their apparent boisterousness. The scientists published their conclusions about the identity of the culprits, and immediately there were news reports of the “rogue pod” and the marauding “teenagers”. It was so loud that we had to shout.”. Share this story! “We can’t characterise them in one dimension. An orca from the pod believed to be attacking sailboats off the coast of Spain this summer displays scars indicating a harpoon attack, in this shot taken by a whale-watching operation. Some populations will only eat fish, preferring one particular type. And the number of “thefts” from the boats has also gone up. Small yachts have been ordered to steer clear of a stretch of water off the north-west coast of Spain after at least three boats were damaged by a gang of boisterous orcas. Most have taken place off Spain’s north-west coast, but six vessels were rammed by the mammals in the Straits of Gibraltar and five in Portuguese waters. “They love it. So far, the researchers have not worked out which family “the three Gladises” belong to. A spate of attacks on boats by killer whales along the coast of Portugal and Spain have left ocean scientists baffled. Orcas off the coast of Spain and Portugal have been ramming boats in what experts say is … “We would be wrong to impose our sense of right and wrong on any other animal, let alone one with its own developed sense of culture.”. But for David, the skipper who encountered the killer whales, the word “play” sits uncomfortably with what he felt that evening. Vessels warned not to approach and report any contact to authorities. 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