Heavy metal didn’t stop these orcas from rocking the boat.
In the wake of orcas seeming to attack boats around Portugal and Spain, sailors are turning to unorthodox tactics in an attempt to deter them.
One piece of advice going around is to blast heavy metal music underwater to keep orcas away. But a marine mammal researcher warns this is a bad idea ― and one crew seems to have learned this the hard way.
Incidents of orcas seeming to attack boats in Europe have been reported since 2020, but no humans have been killed.
Florian Rutsch, who was captaining a catamaran crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, told The New York Times that his crew tried to use a special “Metal for Orcas” playlist (here it is if you’re curious) they hoped would keep the large predators away. But that method didn’t work at all. The orcas went for the vessel’s rudder, making it impossible to steer. All crew members were ultimately rescued, and Spanish authorities towed the catamaran back to shore, according to the Times.
Using loud music as an attempted deterrent may backfire and harm orcas along with other ocean life, Andrew Trites, the marine mammal research unit director at the University of British Columbia, told Business Insider.
“Initially, the playing of loud sounds underwater might mask the signature sounds of sailboats — but ultimately, the whales would catch on and use it to more easily locate vessels playing it,” Trites said.
Music loud enough to simply make orcas turn around would be so loud that it would cause pain and likely damage their hearing ― not to mention cause issues for their fellow sea creatures.
“The biggest problem with blasting music underwater of any kind is that it is ultimately just adding more noise pollution to the ocean, which can have detrimental effects on other marine life,” Trites said.
“Continuous” orca attacks on boats in the region have been reported since 2020, with dozens of incidents and at least three boats totally sinking. There have been no reports of any people being killed in the attacks.
One biologist theorized that the attacks originated with a female orca, known as White Gladis, who may have been harmed by a boat. As the theory goes, White Gladis began to act defensively around seagoing vessels, and other orcas picked up the behavior. But other experts suspect a more mundane explanation: The orcas are simply trying to play with the boats.