Portugal’s maritime authority (AMN) has addressed the string of incidents of orcas ramming boats off the coast of Portugal, advising sailors to be extra cautious when interacting with the mammals.
These strange ‘attacks’ have been happening all year.
The latest was reported on Saturday when a French sailing boat had to be rowed to safety after orcas damaged the vessel’s rudder off the coast of Sines, where most ‘attacks’ have been reported.
This happened just one day after AMN issued a warning to all sailors to be wary of interactions with orcas, urging them to turn off their motors when the orcas approach their vessel and to immobilise the rudder blade.
As the maritime authority explains, younger orcas are attracted by the “mobile and noisy structures of vessels”, which could explain the animals’ behaviour.
But boats have always had moving parts and noisy propellers, so why are these ‘attacks’ happening now?
Scientists are baffled, as reported by the UK’s Guardian in September, when the attacks were most prevalent in Spanish waters.
However, one specialist believes the orcas are not in ‘attack mode’ but most likely playing.
“We have identified that these are young orcas. It is like a game for them. The adults always keep their distance,” Ruth Esteban, a biologist who works at Madeira’s Whale Museum and whose doctorate focused on orcas, told TSF radio.
In fact, researchers believe the same group of orcas could be behind all the attacks off the coast of Sines.
Zoomarine biologist Élio Vicente added that this kind of behaviour “is not normal” and that there aren’t any reports of “negative interactions” between orcas and humans.
In the Algarve, orca sightings are usually celebrated by companies offering dolphin sighting tours, which shows just how uncommon these kinds of attacks are.
Though often called killer whales, orcas are not whales. They are the largest member of the dolphin family.
According to National Geographic, “they’re at the top of the food chain and have very diverse diets, feasting on fish, penguins, and marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches long.”