Reason why killer whales are ramming boats off Spain, Portugal and Shetland?

I think we need to get to the bottom of this ongoing behavior of killer whales (orcas) ramming boats firstly off Spain and Portugal and more recently off Shetland, in the North Sea. It is believed that the killer whales in the south have passed on the message to those in the north to ram the boats. Killer whales are highly social and communicate in pulsed calls and whistles when hunting. They feed on squid and fish and occasionally larger prey such as other species of whale and seals. They can communicate over a distance of 12 kilometers.

“I believe that orcas are attacking yachts to protect their hunting grounds from human intrusion. They believe that humans are ‘stealing’ their prey animals” – MikeB

Orca photo by Jeanne Hyde
Orca photo by Jeanne Hyde

There were a number of reports not long ago of orcas attacking yachts off the Iberian coast. More than 100 vessels reported increasingly aggressive behavior. Three yachts were sunk. Four crew members had to abandon ship last month when three orcas broke the rudder of a yacht which then began leaking. The boat eventually sank.

In the most recent incident in the North Sea a retired Dutch physicist was sailing from Lerwick to Bergen in Norway. The orca hit the stern of his 7-ton boat.

The killer struck several times sending shock waves through the vessel. The sailor said that he could hear the very loud breathing of the orca. He was fishing for mackerel on a line.

Why are orcas doing this? The experts are baffled. I’d like to take a common-sense viewpoint. Clearly the behavior is aggressive. It is unfriendly. The orcas want to damage the boats. Perhaps with the intention of sinking them. If that’s correct it might be that the underlying driver is to stop this human activity which in the case of the Dutchman was fishing.

Perhaps orcas want to stop humans fishing. Perhaps they see humans ‘stealing’ their prey animals. Perhaps they are defending their hunting grounds from humans. That’s the logical assessment I’d argue.

Some experts believe that young orcas are imitating an adult known as White Gladis. Monica Gonzales believes that White Gladis had an “adverse moment, perhaps related to a fishing boat while hunting tuna. We think the orca had an incident and is trying to stop the boats.”

Of the Iberian Peninsula 13 juveniles and 2 adults caused mayhem. They think the attacks are linked to the migration of tuna from the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar. In that area of the oceans killer whales prey on migrating bluefin tuna. It seems to me that the orcas were once again protecting their hunting grounds from human intrusion. They want the prey for themselves.

Dr Conor Ryan believes the southern orcas could be instruction those in the north to attack boats. He said that it is possible that “this fad is leapfrogging through the various pods”.

Alfredo Lopez Fernandez said, “The orcas are doing this on purpose”. Yes, that’s pretty obvious! It is clear but what is the reason? I believe my reason makes the most sense.

Humans are overfishing the seas and oceans. Orcas are smart. They are perhaps struggling to survive under this human hunting onslaught and are taking direct action in an organised way to stop it.


An updating report in The Times today essentially concludes that the experts are puzzled by this behaviour. They admit that orcas are very clever and there may simply be playing. Or some individuals may have had a bad experience and that they have transmitted this thought to other orcas and they are attacking the rudders of boats it seems to me and sometimes breaking the rudder. There have been hundreds of incidents. This is not isolated. Is it fair to say that the orcas are communicating with each other? Have they decided as I stated above that they are going to respond to what they perceive as negative human behaviour affecting them?

Rob Lott of Whale and Dolphin Conservation has his personal opinion on this. He said:

“Orcas are super smart and incredibly behaviourally complex. We have no idea what they say to each other, but we know they have a dialect and a deep culture. We’ve hunted them, we’ve ripped the youngsters away to put them in marine parks for so-called entertainment. But, if they were prone to revenge, we would have seen it by now.”

Russia botches release of orcas and beluga whales

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