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Scientists Puzzled as Orcas Sink Three Boats Off Iberian Coast (File)

A rise in reported attacks by orcas against boats in Western Europe since 2020 has perplexed scientists and drawn debate over whether a killer whale is teaching members of its pod how to ram into boats, according to a May 18 article in Live Science.

A female orca known as White Gladis is thought to be behind some of the incidents, after being traumatized by a collision with a boat, researchers believe.

Marine biologist Alfredo Lopez Fernandez, who coauthored a June 2022 study on orca attacks off the Iberian coast, said White Gladis suffered a “critical moment of agony” that flipped a behavioral switch.

Speaking to Live Science, Lopez Fernandez said that the behavior has spread to younger orcas.

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“We do not interpret that the orcas are teaching the young, although the behavior has spread to the young vertically, simply by imitation, and later horizontally among them, because they consider it something important in their lives,” Lopez Fernandez said.

Storyful licensed footage of an aggressive orca encounter with a boat in October 2021.

According to Matt Johnston, who captured the clip, a pod of orcas circled and rammed into his boat near Sines, Portugal, breaking off pieces of the vessel.

Johnston told Storyful that “the larger pair in the orca pod would batter the boat with their heads, turning it 90 degrees, while the younger pair would attack the rudder.”

After calling the maritime police to scare the orcas off, Johnston said he had to have his disabled boat towed into the nearest port. Credit: Matt Johnston via Storyful

Video transcript

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