Orcas ramming boats in Spain exhibit ‘very unusual’ behavior (interview)

Over the past two months, Gibraltar orcas have been ramming sailboats in Spain. People witnessing the attacks said that they seemed very coordinated. Marine biologists worldwide are trying to figure out why they’re doing that.

In an interview with The Animal Reader, Naomi Rose, an orca biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute, mentions that the attacks which lasted between 15 minutes and one hour are “extremely unusual”.

“This is extremely unusual. We do not know, as marine mammal biologists, as orca biologists, globally of any other situation where they’ve been so focused on attacking a particular kind of vessel”, Rose says.

Historically, when orcas have rammed boats in the past, they usually ram the boats once or twice and swim off, as they might mistake the boat for a prey item, like a seal.

Possible theories for why the orcas are reacting this way
With less than 50 critically endangered individuals left in the Gibraltar Straits, which is a major shipping route, the waters near the South of Spain are not ideal for these mammals.

Some scientists think that maybe the orcas made the link that people are responsible for their food shortages. The population of orcas that live in the Gibraltar Straits mostly eat bluefin tuna which is endangered due to high global demand caused by human consumption.

And not all orcas eat the same type of food across the globe, Rose mentions: “Each population of orcas around the world is different. They eat differently, they speak differently, they behave differently. They are cultural and it’s their environment that makes them what they are.”

Another theory that Rose says she’s inclined to think of is that something bad could have happened to a family member in the pod of orcas, such as a sailing vessel hitting one of the orcas.

This could have led to some of the individuals attacking similar boats that caused damage to one of the orcas, or maybe one of their calves, which a family of orcas can be very protective over.

How to save the Gibraltar Orcas?
When asked about the solution to preventing the extinction of the critically endangered orcas, Rose says humans have to start changing their way of living.

“For the whole planet, the answer to that question is, we have to stop living the way we’re living. We have to change our behavior, or not only orcas are going to go extinct, but so we’ll we.”

Earlier this year, due to the coronavirus, orcas experienced quieter waters and less competition with fishermen for fish.

The Guardian reported that during the country’s lockdown for two months, the orcas enjoyed reduced noise and disturbances, with no sailing boats, big game fishing, fast ferries or whale watching.

Will the orcas in the Gibraltar Straits ever have that peace again?

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