Pods of orcas, commonly referred to as "killer whales," have been initiating violent encounters with ships and sailors in and around the Strait of Gibraltar over the course of the last two months. Witnesses have said that the attacks appear to be "orchestrated," leaving maritime scientists baffled.
In one incident, a 46-foot delivery boat was surrounded by nine orcas. For more than an hour, the creatures repeatedly rammed the hull, spinning the boat 180 degrees. The most mysterious part of the attack was the constant, loud whistle the orcas seemed to be using to communicate.
Earlier that same week, a boat captain reported a 50-minute encounter where a pod slammed their boat so forcefully that it "nearly dislocated the helmsman's shoulder." Still another skipper reported a bang "like a sledgehammer" before his yacht spun around backwards.
Rocío Espada, of the marine biology lab at the University of Seville, says that for orcas to destroy a fiberglass rudder is "crazy," adding that despite of years studying killer whales he has "never seen or heard of attacks."
While it is somewhat normal for curious animals to approach and even make contact with boats, it is extremely rare for orcas to become aggressive. Yet, those who have been experiencing the recent encounters have claimed they have the makings of a "totally orchestrated" attack.
Lori Marino, who leads the Whale Sanctuary Project, thinks the phenomena could be related to the orcas being angry over the return of human traffic to their waters following months of coronavirus lockdowns.
"If we are talking about whether killer whales have the wherewithal and the cognitive capacity to intentionally strike out at someone, or to be angry, or to really know what they are doing, I would have to say the answer is yes. They are likely defending a territory or resources," she explained.