A man sailing on a yacht in the North Sea near Scotland’s Shetland Islands said an orca repeatedly rammed his boat earlier this week, exhibiting behavior recently seen in killer whales further south.
Retired Dutch physicist Dr Wim Rutten was alone on a 7-tonne yacht on Monday when a killer whale slammed into the stern of the boat, then turned around to hit it again and again “at high speed”. he told the Guardian.
The published Guardian interview did not mention any permanent damage to the ship, just “light knocks” felt through the hull.
“Maybe he just wanted to play,” speculated Rutten, who was fishing for mackerel when the orca appeared. “Or look me in the eye. Or to get rid of the fishing line.
His account bore a striking similarity to dozens of incidents reported this year in waters near Portugal and Spain. Last month, killer whales broke the rudder and punctured the hull of a sailboat near the southern coast of Spain, forcing a rescue team to tow the vessel to a port. Three weeks earlier, also off the coast of Spain, a trio of killer whales rammed and eventually sank a yacht. No human fatalities occurred in any of the reported incidents.
Dr Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist who authored a paper published last year on the phenomenon, believes the incidents originated with a female killer whale known to scientists as White Gladis. The theory goes that White Gladis had a traumatic encounter involving a boat and began to behave defensively against other boats, and his fellow orcs took over the behavior.
However, not all scientists agree that this is what likely happened.
“What I think is probably happening is that it’s playful behavior. It’s social behavior,” Dr. Deborah Giles, scientific director of the research and advocacy group, told Vice News. Wild Orcas.
Giles suspects a young orca has started ramming boats playfully, and others have followed suit.
Besides the origin of the behavior, another question is whether it is now spreading in northern waters or whether it appears there independently.
Orca researcher Dr Conor Ryan told the Guardian that it is plausible that pods of “highly mobile” orcas are spreading the behavior north.
“It’s possible that this ‘fashion’ jumps across the different pods/communities,” he said.
The incidents inspired a huge amount of broadly supportive support jokes and memes about an uprising of orcs. But Monica Bacchus, marine programs coordinator for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s killer whale research and conservation program, told Vice that she doesn’t think what’s happening is a true cetacean revolution. But she finds the phenomenon intriguing.
She said, “It’s always cool to see animals doing new things.”