For weeks, the world has been watching with interest as groups of orcas, also known as killer whales, appear to be ambushing boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal.
But now, a boat captain is speaking out, saying that after his boat was attacked for a second time he now thinks these groups of orcas know “exactly what they’re doing.”
Captain Dan Kriz, a sailor with Reliance Yacht Management, had his first orca encounter in 2020.
“I was sailing with my delivery crew through the Strait of Gibraltar delivering a yacht when I was surrounded with a pack of eight orcas, pushing the boat around for about an hour,” Kriz told Newsweek. “We were one of the first boats experiencing this very unusual orcas’ behaviour.”
While the whales caused significant damage to the boat’s rudder, leaving them stranded and needing a tow to the nearest marina, a similar attack three years later has cemented his belief that orcas are now intentionally disrupting sea vessels.
Kriz said that he was delivering a catamaran on April 15 of this year near the Canary Islands when he began to feel the boat being jostled by creatures below.
“My first reaction was, ‘Please! Not again,’” Kriz told Newsweek.
“First time (in 2020), we could hear them communicating under the boat,” the captain said. “This time, they were quiet, and it didn’t take them that long to destroy both rudders.
“Looks like they knew exactly what they are doing. They didn’t touch anything else,” Kriz added, saying it only took them about 15 minutes to dismantle parts of the boat.
Video shared to Instagram of the encounter shows orcas “biting off both rudders,” with one of the whales seen swimming around with a piece of rudder in its mouth.
Marine scientists are still trying to determine what is causing the uptick in orca attacks on boats off the coasts of Portugal and Spain, but there’s no question there’s been a sizable increase in these incidents — over the past two years, killer whale research group Atlantic Orca Working Group has found these events have tripled, with 52 incidents in 2020 compared to more than 200 in 2022.
Earlier this month, biologist and wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin told CBS News that the behaviour boils down the “incredible intelligence” of orcas and he believes older whales are teaching their young pod members these destructive tendencies.
“What we’re seeing is adapted behaviour. We’re learning about how they actually learn from their environment and then take those skill sets and share them and teach them to other whales,” he said.
Some researchers have theorized that a single, revenge-obsessed orca is teaching others to attack boats after she was injured by one in the past, but not everyone is convinced by this theory.
“They could crush the boat in a heartbeat if they wanted to,” Sébastien Destremau, a captain who was involved in a similar attack on May 22, previously told Newsweek. “But they were not aggressive, they’re not wanting to have a piece of you.”
Rather, Destremau told the outlet he thinks parent orcas might be teaching their young how to hunt using boats as the learning prop.
“If I was a parent orca, I’m not going to touch my living stock, because my living stock is low, so why not train them on our boats?” Destremau said. “For them, the rudder looks like a fin! [It] moves like a fin, and you can play and push and grab it. And, as soon as the rudder is destroyed, they disappear.”
Alfredo López Fernandez, an orca researcher at the Atlantic Orca Working Group, told Live Science that the watercraft assaults might also be a new fad for the animals, encouraged by juvenile whales.
Nick Taylor wins Canadian Open, first Canadian champion since 1954
Reddit blackout: What’s behind the coordinated protest?
“We do not interpret that the orcas are teaching the young, although the behaviour has spread to the young vertically, simply by imitation, and later horizontally among them, because they consider it something important in their lives,” López Fernandez said.
Andrew Trites, professor and director of Marine Mammal Research at the University of British Columbia, is more hesitant to throw out a theory.
“My idea, or what anyone would give you, is informed speculation. It is a total mystery, unprecedented,” he said, adding that while orcas appear to be the only species of whale attacking boats, he’s unsure what is acting as the positive reinforcement for these behaviours.
Regardless, most researchers interviewed about the bizarre behaviour agree that the attacks aren’t malevolent or a direct attempt to take out humans, despite a number of boats sinking to the sea floor in the past year after they were badly damaged.
Deborah Giles, science and research director of the Washington State–based nonprofit conservation organization Wild Orca, points to a period of time in the 1960s and 70s when humans relentlessly harassed killer whales of the west coast of North America, capturing young whales for display at zoos and marine parks.
“These are animals that, every single one of them, had been captured at one point or another — most whales multiple times. And these are whales that saw their babies being taken away from them and put on trucks and driven away, never to be seen again,” Giles told Scientific American. “And yet these whales never attacked boats, never attacked humans.”
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Source link : CNN