Sharp rise in number of killer whales attacking boats across Europe

Scientists are yet to learn why there has been a growing number of cases involving killer whales breaking boat rudders off the coast of Europe.

The puzzling incidents have occurred close to Portugal, Spain and France and, while nobody has been injured or killed during any of the attacks, several vessels have been damaged and a sailboat was sunk at the end of last month.

Earlier this month, a group of orcas rammed a 37-foot (11.2 metre) boat off the coast of France when Ester Kristie Storkson, 27, and her father were undertaking a round-the-world sailing attempt.

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The attack lasted for 15 minutes with only a quarter of the rudder left attached to the boat, which had to be repaired on the French coast.

With incidents having been reported in different regions of Europe, it is the belief of Renaud de Stephanis, the president of a Spain-based research group, that more than one pod of orcas are responsible for the attacks and that the giant mammals could be mimicking behaviour in a manner that resembles human fads.

This was witnessed, most amusingly, in 1987 when killer whales in the Pacific Ocean's Puget Sound started wearing dead salmon like hats.

A paper in the Biological Conservation journal 17 years later determined that one female orca began a trend that then caught on like a viral TikTok challenge within a couple more pods.

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The craze lasted about six weeks, even though a few whales tried – less infectiously – to inspire a comeback for the unlikely fashion accessory during the following summer.

De Stephanis has suggested that the orcas might enjoy the sensation of water being moved by a propeller, adding that when its not turning, "they get kind of frustrated and that's why they break the rudder".

But, it is known that at least one of the killer whale incidents has happened when the propeller was spinning.

Other scientists believe that a group of juvenile males might have become playful and curious of the rudders and reason that those responsible should outgrow their bad behaviour – a little like human teenagers.


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