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Scientists are baffled after Orcas sink three boats in Europe

Published May 19th, 2023 5:29PM EDT
Orcas in the water, orcas attacking boats, sinking them off coast of Europe
Image: Richard / Adobe

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Groups of Orcas have sunk three boats off the coast of Europe and scientists aren’t exactly sure why. The current belief is that the behavior may have begun after a traumatized orca attacked a boat during a “critical moment of agony,” Live Science reports. They believe that the behavior is spreading among the population due to social learning.

Orcas, which are also known as killer whales, aren’t typically aggressive. However, the first of these incidents began in May of 2020. Scientists studying the incidents believe that the first on was driven by some kind of agony experienced by the Orca. Since then, though, others have been spotted attack sailboats and other vessels around them.

Most of the encounters end up harmless, one of the scientists told Live Science. However more than 500 interactions have been recorded since that first one in 2020. So far, these orca boat attacks have led to three sunken ships, raising concerns over how things might progress moving forward. While the scientists aren’t 100 percent sure the attacks began with that initial one, it is clear the orcas are attacking on purpose.

orca pod in the waterImage source: willyam / Adobe

Experts involved in studying the incidents say that the first incident happened after a female orca named White Gladis suffered a collision with a boat, or entrapment in an illegal fishing net, which triggered a behaviour switch. And, since orcas are social animals, the behavior began to spread from them, leading to this most recent incident where three orcas attacked a small boat, eventually sinking it.

What’s even more intriguing and baffling is that the orcas all seem to make a straight path for the boat’s rudder, biting or breaking it. If the behavior is defensive, it’s possible it could continue, not only putting boats at risk, but also putting the orcas themselves at risk from the trauma caused by crashing into these vessels.

While their deaths cannot be directly linked to the incidents, it is possible that the deaths of four orcas that have died since the first boat attack in 2020 could somehow be connected to these incidents. The scientists are still baffled as to whether or not the actions are the orcas being playful, or if they are actively trying to be aggressive, as orcas are normally more playful creatures.

Orcas are one of the only animals that sharks fear, so maybe it isn’t that surprising that they can be so aggressive, even if the orcas are attacking the boats in a playful manner.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.