Scientists admit they are puzzled by an increase in aggressive orca activity, with whales ramming boats along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts, according to reports from the Guardian.
The number of reported incidents involving orcas increased during the summer months. Researchers found that whale-boat interactions are not uncommon, but the level of aggression in July and August is “highly unusual”.
Researchers speculate that it may be coastline competition for tuna populations that has put some strain on whale populations. Alfredo Lopez, the coordinator for the study of marine mammals in Galicia, said orcas made their way up the coast every September to hunt tuna.
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“We are seeing tracks caused by fishing lines,” Jörn Selling, marine biologist with the Firmm Whale Watching and Research Foundation, told the Guardian. “We hear of young orcas getting addicted.”
However, the events are still considered unusual.
“These are very strange occurrences,” says Ezequiel Andreu Cazalla, a whale researcher. “But I don’t think it’s attacks.
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Rocio Espada, who works with the Marine Biology Laboratory at the University of Seville, said she was amazed at what she heard.
“It’s crazy for killer whales to take out a piece of a fiberglass oar,” Espada said. “I’ve seen these orcas grow from babies, I know their life stories, I’ve never seen or heard of attacks.”
The Spanish maritime authorities have warned ships to “keep their distance”, but seafarers have found it difficult to follow this advice. Reports range from brief but sudden crashes to prolonged ramming for over an hour.
Alfonso Gomez-Jordana Martin, a member of a boat on the delivery team, said her boat was stalled by a pod of four orcas.
“When we were stopped, they came faster: 10-15 knots from a distance of 25 m,” said Martin. “The impact tipped the boat sideways.
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The skipper’s report of the incident said the crew “almost slipped the helmsman’s shoulder and turned the entire yacht 120 degrees”.