“Killer Whale Attacks!” sure makes for a great headline, but it may not be quite accurate when used to describe the encounters between orcas and boats that have been taking place near the Iberian Peninsula in recent years.
Hundreds of these encounters have been documented off the southern coasts of Spain and Portugal since 2020. Researchers say they typically follow a similar pattern: an orca approaches a boat from behind and strikes its rudder repeatedly, sometimes until it is broken and the boat is immobilized. The encounters are usually short and cause minimal damage. No humans were injured.
But the killer whales managed to sink sailing boats , in three instances, prompting the talk of a “orca revolt” where the whales finally fought back.
“Undoubtedly the people on board these little boats feel attacked,” Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia in Canada, previously told Insider. Still, he thinks it’s unlikely that “attack” is an accurate description of what’s going on.
Despite one theory about a “traumatized” killer whale seeking revenge on boats, Trites and other experts have said they believe the orcas are most likely just playing. The orcas appear to mimic the behavior of their peers, which suggests that it’s being reinforced or they get pleasure from it.
Trites said he was also concerned that framing the encounters as “attacks” could lead to misunderstandings about killer whales, not dissimilar to the fear of great white sharks inspired by a certain Hollywood movie that changed many people’s impressions of the ocean forever.
Other experts, as well as a ship captain whose boat was targeted by an orca, have worried that the “attack” framing could lead scared boaters to take matters into their own hands and start shooting whales, which feeds into another potentially misleading aspect of describing these interactions as “attacks” — in all likelihood, the whales are more likely to get injured or killed in these encounters than the humans.
Instead of calling the behavior the orcas engage in an attack which suggests aggressive or violent actions, perhaps it would be better to describe their literal behaviors: like striking, ramming or targeting boats.
The post Stop calling the killer whale encounters with boats ‘attacks’ appeared first on Business Insider.