Video Shows Killer Whale Gang Attacking and Ramming Boats
Bored young males are up to mischief.
Orcas have been caught vandalizing sailboats in southern Europe, and scientists aren't sure what's causing this unusual behavior. The young sea mammals have been attacking boats (some of which had people on board at the time of the incidents) and tearing off pieces in what's being referred to as a "temporary cultural fad." Here's what's happening with the teenage orca hooligans.
Norwegian medical student Ester Kristine Storkson, 27, was asleep on her father's 37-foot-sailboat off the coast of France when a group of young orcas attacked, "ramming the boat," Storkson told NPR. "They [hit] us repeatedly … giving us the impression that it was a coordinated attack. I told my dad, 'I'm not thinking clearly, so you need to think for me.' Thankfully, he is a very calm and centered person, and made me feel safe by gently talking about the situation."
After 15 minutes the orcas gave up on their attack and swam off, leaving Storkson and her father to assess the damage. They lowered a GoPro into the water and discovered the killer whales had damaged the boat. "Approximately three-quarters of [the rudder] was broken off, and some metal was bent," Storkson says. Luckily there was enough rudder left to get to safety at the French coastal town of Brest, but they had to pause their trip to sail around the world.
Orcas reportedly sank two boats off the coast of Portugal last month, but the Storkson incident is considered an outlier. "I really don't understand what happened there," says Renaud de Stephanis, president and coordinator at CIRCE Conservación Information and Research, a cetacean research group based in Spain. "It's too far away. I mean, I don't think that [the orcas] would go up there for a couple of days and then come back."
Why are the orcas attacking rudders specifically? One theory is they actually enjoy playing with them. "What we think is that they're asking to have the propeller in the face," de Stephanis says. So, when the orcas come across a rudder that isn't running, "they get kind of frustrated and that's why they break the rudder."
Scientists believe this is typical of what happens when adolescents have too much time (and too few responsibilities) on their hands. "This is a game," says de Stephanis, who believes things will change when the juvenile males have to actually start hunting for food as part of the pod. "When they … have their own adult life, it will probably stop." The boat attacks are reminiscent of a period in the 1990s when young orcas were swimming around with dead salmon on their heads. "They'd kill fish and just swim around with this fish on their head," says Jared Towers, director of Bay Cetology in British Columbia. "We just don't see that anymore."