Young Orcas Are Still Ramming Into Boats and Sinking Them, and Now We Know Why

Four orcas swimming in the ocean and playing

Photo: Kamchatka/Depositphotos

Since 2017, there have been regular “attacks” on boats in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Orcas have been ramming themselves into boats to the point that they actually sunk at least four boats. One boat off the Strait of Gibraltar was sunk just this past May. Especially during COVID lockdown, it was hard to not interpret the orca incidents as killer whales protesting humanity. Turns out though that despite over 670 “interactions” over the past four years, the orcas haven't actually turned into a rogue Extinction Rebellion chapter. And no, the orcas don't look at sunbathers on luxury yachts like lobsters to be picked out of a tank for dinner. According to a new report by the Atlantic Orca Working Group (GTOA), Shamu's Iberian cousins are just playing.

Imagine being an extra bored teen that's going through a growth spurt to weigh 16 tons. They don't have Play Stations underwater so what's a young orca to do? Not hunting. There's been an explosion in the bluefin tuna population, so the pod of about 40 critically endangered Iberian orcas don't have to chase after every meal they spot. As a result, there's been extra free-time for developing some hobbies. As one of the smartest creatures on the planet, this curious bunch needs some mental stimulation.

Out of the 40, there's been a core group of 15 mischief makers that have been taking part in what is the orca equivalent of a TikTok challenge. All of the orcas are either juveniles or adolescents, and overwhelmingly they're male. Once one cool orca started bumping rudders, all the others started modeling his behavior. The problem is they've all been getting much bigger, leading to the unintended mayhem.

Apparently, just like humans, killer whales are susceptible to being influenced by trendsetters. In the 1980s, one hipster orca in the Puget Sound was spotted wearing a fish as a hat. Then, within two months, orcas from three neighboring pods were sporting fish hats. Then they stopped suddenly, as if the dead fish were no longer considered chic. Another group of male orcas like to move fishermen's prawn and crab traps around. Scientists are fairly certain this is purely in fun as they don't typically eat crabs or prawn. In other words, the orcas don't intend any harm, but maybe stay out of their way until they find a new trend to follow.

Over the past 4 years, a small group of endangered orcas have been interfering with boats off the Iberian Peninsula.

A playful looking orca

Photo: Christian/Depositphotos

To avoid becoming collateral damage during playtime, Spanish officials have encouraged boaters to stay closer to shore and not drop anchor when they spot nearby orcas.

h/t: [New Atlas]

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Elizabeth Beiser

Elizabeth Beiser is a Contributing Writer and Project Coordinator at My Modern Met. She has a background in American Cultural History with a special focus on Modern art and democratic community building. She received her B.A. in history, with a minor in Studio Arts, and her M.A. in history from the University of Rochester. She has worked on multiple political campaigns, as well as in non-profit operations and direct service. When she’s not writing, she’s experimenting with all varieties of arts and crafts. She also enjoys spending time with four-legged friends and exploring her hometown of Boston.
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