“Orcas have sunk 3 boats in Europe and appear to be teaching others to do the same. But why?”

He Rises!

Scientists think a traumatized orca initiated the assault on boats after a “critical moment of agony” and that the behavior is spreading among the population through social learning. Orcas have attacked and sunk a third boat off the Iberian coast of Europe, and experts now believe the behavior is being copied by the rest of the population.

Three orcas (Orcinus orca), also known as killer whales, struck the yacht on the night of May 4 in the Strait of Gibraltar, off the coast of Spain, and pierced the rudder. “There were two smaller and one larger orca,” skipper Werner Schaufelberger told the German publication Yacht. “The little ones shook the rudder at the back while the big one repeatedly backed up and rammed the ship with full force from the side.” Schaufelberger said he saw the smaller orcas imitate the larger one. “The two little orcas observed the bigger one’s technique and, with a slight run-up, they too slammed into the boat.” Spanish coast guards rescued the crew and towed the boat to Barbate, but it sank at the port entrance. Two days earlier, a pod of six orcas assailed another sailboat navigating the strait. Greg Blackburn, who was aboard the vessel, looked on as a mother orca appeared to teach her calf how to charge into the rudder. “It was definitely some form of education, teaching going on,” Blackburn told 9news.

Reports of aggressive encounters with orcas off the Iberian coast began in May 2020 and are becoming more frequent, according to a study published June 2022 in the journal Marine Mammal Science. Assaults seem to be mainly directed at sailing boats and follow a clear pattern, with orcas approaching from the stern to strike the rudder, then losing interest once they have successfully stopped the boat “The reports of interactions have been continuous since 2020 in places where orcas are found, either in Galicia or in the Strait,” said co-author Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal and representative of the Grupo de Trabajo Orca Atlántica, or Atlantic Orca Working Group.

Most encounters have been harmless, López Fernandez told Live Science in an email. “In more than 500 interaction events recorded since 2020 there are three sunken ships. We estimate that killer whales only touch one ship out of every hundred that sail through a location.” The spike in aggression towards boats is a recent phenomenon, López Fernandez said. Researchers think that a traumatic event may have triggered a change in the behavior of one orca, which the rest of the population has learned to imitate. “The orcas are doing this on purpose, of course, we don’t know the origin or the motivation, but defensive behavior based on trauma, as the origin of all this, gains more strength for us every day,” López Fernandez said. 

Experts suspect that a female orca they call White Gladis suffered a “critical moment of agony” — a collision with a boat or entrapment during illegal fishing — that flipped a behavioral switch. “That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat,” López Fernandez said.


Comment: I can fully sympathize with White Gladis. I’m more of a FAFO guy than a turn the other cheek guy. I was torn between Moby Dick or Mogli’s Song Against People for an apt illustration. I wasn’t very social as a youth and I found great solace in Mogli’s words.

I have untied against you the club-footed vines – 
I have sent in the Jungle to swamp out your lines ! 
  The trees – the trees are on you !
    The house-beams shall fall;
  And the Karela, the bitter Karela,
    Shall cover you all ! 


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16 Responses to “Orcas have sunk 3 boats in Europe and appear to be teaching others to do the same. But why?”

    • Fourth and Long says:

      Imagine having a language which instead of using words and letters uses a physio-bio organ which transmits exact images of what your own sonar beams cause you to sense by perceiving their reflections off your surroundings. Your interlocutor actually “sees” what you saw. A biological iPhone with video, or at least imagery and surround sound, accomplished by mother nature 82 zillion years before Steve Wozniak learned to say the word “garage.”

      Now if Dr Ingrid is available, well, I don’t call him Gladys, and he’s more the color .. .
      That man has been arrested. We are considering his punishment, but rest assured he won’t get away with this.

      • Fourth and Long says:

        And then agent Donny Brasco said: That was when Lefty got the call ..

        The genus name Orcinus means “of the kingdom of the dead”, or “belonging to Orcus”.
        Orcus (Latin: Orcus) God of the underworld, punisher of broken oaths.
        In Etruscan and Roman mythology. As with Hades, the name of the god was also used for the underworld itself. Eventually, he was conflated with Dis Pater and Pluto.

    • Fourth and Long says:

      Wiki says “Orca” may have an etymological root shared with “Oryx” which I remember as an ancient cattle relative.
      Ancient Romans originally used orca[10] (pl. orcae) for these animals, possibly borrowing Ancient Greek ὄρυξ (óryx). This word referred (among other things) to a whale species, perhaps a narwhal.[11]
      Surprise – this list of destroyed Ru war equipment was high on the list of search results. Google wants you to find this?

      The guys in Hiroshima today decided to give Ukraine F-16 fighter jets. Decision reached earlier by a man named Joe Biden (or Count Dracula to his close friends). My pet theory, for which I haven’t selected a name yet but “Zippy the Pinhead” is under consideration says that they want to force Putin to use Zippy’s favorite toy – the TNW, so the politicians at the upcoming Nagasaki festival can win universal approval to seize Russia’s nuclear arms after a surrender.

      TTG, will respond “nice try. Wanna know the only part you got right there?” I will say “let me guess, the Pinhead part?” And then I will try to see how much I like Pee-Wee Herman’s Great Adventure after walking out of a theater 38 years ago because I said not to butter the popcorn, but only if it’s online free somewhere.


  1. walrus says:

    This is not the first time. I speculate that the color of the anti fouling may have something to do with it. I wonder if red is a safe color? Black makes you look like another whale.

    It may be time for harpoons again……..

    • TTG says:


      Good point about the anti fouling. It could be the color or a chemical trigger from the biocide. When I chose my windsurfing wetsuit, I deliberately avoided black because I didn’t want to look like a seal.

  2. Fourth and Long says:

    Fascinating. I was a “The Walrus and the Carpenter” man who sympathized with the poor oysters. But really enjoyed the Campbell’s Oyster Soup that my mom made for us in the fifties. Sadly that product is no longer available. I asked myself why. Then I reread that poem.

    Did the Carthaginians exploit the Ocean’s Reconnaissance Creature Assassin’s in their day in their period of Mediterranean maritime hegemony over the Romans? Who knows. Alexander the Great spoke with his horse Bucephalus all the time if you believe the stories.

  3. Fred says:

    Definitely a pattern with those “killers”. It is probably “white supremacy” in action. How dare those boats navigate the whale’s territory without permission. We should get a grant to study the issue. I could use another trip to Spain. I believe walrus has a yacht, we could hire him and some of our European correspondents as well, to keep it all in the turcoplier family. “There she blows!” Could be the tentative title, though we don’t know the orca’s true gender identity. Better ask for more money to study that too.

  4. morongobill says:

    I just hope they don’t start treating human swimmers like they do seals or develop a taste for wetsuits.

    • TTG says:


      I’ve read accounts where surfers in black wetsuits may have been mistaken for seals.

  5. KjHeart says:

    (IMO) this is likely a combination of things –

    Though I am not a climate alarmist, I do think that humans could do a better job of taking care of the planet. Noise Pollution is a huge problem from migratory Marine Life.

    an old article that has the basics of the problem – there are several if someone wants to research more.


    AS to whales going after dark wet suit – we have evidence of that happening – it may not be the color that is the issue so much as the odd darkness that a black wet suit has – Whales do not see that well – Light/Dark/shades of gray/ and blurry may be a short summation of whale eyesight.

    Still – choosing a wet suit in something other that seal brown/or black is likely wise.



    Personally, I think whales have been disrespected for some time. Not surprised they are pushing back. I think we, humans, forget that we are not at the top of the food chain in all circumstances.

    • different clue says:

      I have read that most artificial ocean noise comes from shipping itself. The more trade, the more shipping. I know that zero trade is an impossible dream, but if we changed trade policy from Free Trade to Fair Trade and from Globalization to Regionalization and Localization after that, we could have far less trade which would mean far less shipping and far less ocean noise deafening the sea life and blinding them too, if they are bio-sonar dependent.

      And once we got shipping down to as low as we could realistically get it, we could then fit some of the ships at least with modern computer-controlled wind-catchers ( “sails”), like some version of these.

      And if we pushed that as far as we could, so that we only had a fraction of the current number of ships involved in shipping, we could then make their propellors much more efficient and much less noisy, if this you tube I have seen on vortical propellors is reality based and factually founded.

      ( By the way, I wonder if this toroidal propellor concept can be run backwards and modified if necessary to be a toroidal turbine for extracting the absolute maximum energy from falling or moving water).

  6. longarch says:

    Meanwhile, in orca media, serious orca journalists are writing headlines like the following: “Insane bipedal apes are killing the entire ecosphere and they are not even having fun doing it. Are they evil or just insane? More importantly, how can responsible orca activists destroy these mad brutes?”

  7. Jose says:

    The Orcas are pissed that their claves are being taught CRT and being trans without parental approval.

    Actually, there is link to Wind Turbines that has disappeared from the internet causing problems as acoustics bounce of ships.

    If I remember correctly, it was an issue with territory.

  8. Mark Logan says:

    There were some comments on this a few years ago on some sailing forums. The word was it was probably play….and the solution a couple reported was they stopped messing with the boat when the engine was turned on. One reported he got it to stop by sounding off an air horn held in the water. He reported the reaction to that was instant, they departed at high speed. For critters with hearing as sensitive as theirs it was probably a deafeningly loud sound. One said he drove the away by playing Yoko Ono on his internal stereo at full volume, but a person who either has or admits to having that stuff at hand can not be considered credible…about anything.

    The problem was considered solved. I suppose they may now feel that if one of these strange things doesn’t react with a spinning prop or an air horn it’s game-on.

  9. Off topic, but those interested in life in the woods might appreciate this:


    A very sad story.
    Sorry for the woman.
    I have spent my time on the AT.
    Sorry for her.
    What a sad end.

    If NYT paywall is a problem, see


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