Killer whales are ramming into boats and damaging them. The reason remains a mystery.

Reports of killer whales attempting to capsize boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal have raised questions about the giant sea creatures and the motivations behind their misdeeds. This behavior is unusual and started in 2020, says Andrew W. Treats, professor and director of marine mammal research at the University of British Columbia.

According to the released data, these incidents have increased more than three times in the last two years. By GTOAa group that researches orcas in the region.

“Nobody knows why this is happening,” Treats told CBS News. “My guess, or what someone will tell you, is informed guesswork. It’s a complete mystery, unprecedented.”

Treats said there’s no doubt the whales are damaging boats and scaring people on board, but the reason is a mystery. However, there must be something positively reinforcing this behavior and the benefits to the whales far outweigh the costs, he said.

Only a small group of killer whales, also known as orcas, are exhibiting the behavior of crashing into boats, including yachts and sailboats, and the practice appears to be spreading among their populations. In 2011, the small group numbered only 39 whales, Tritts said.

The whales are often seen in summer near Spain and Portugal, and dozens of people have reportedly witnessed the behavior.

Last week, a group of killer whales breached the rudder and punched a hole in a sailboat in the area. The crew of four had to call the authorities for help and we were rescued. Reuters reports. Their boat was brought back to port for repairs. Earlier this month, three orcas hit a ship. After the incident, the boat was so full that it could not be brought back.

This is only one of about 20 incidents. Recorded in this area this month by GTOA., a group that researches orcas in the region. According to Reuters, the Spanish transport ministry has advised boaters to leave the area and report any interactions if they observe an orca changing direction or speed.

Between July and November 2020, 52 interactions were recorded between the Straits of Gibraltar and Galicia in northern Spain, the GTOA says. The following year there were 197 interactions and in 2022, 207 interactions. GTOA says the incidents primarily affect sailboats.

Oh Study on disruptive behavior of killer whales. Published in 2022. Alfredo López Fernández, co-author of the study, told Live Science Most interactions have been harmless, but at least three ships have sunk since the behavior began in 2020, he said.

López Fernández, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal who also works at GTOA, told Live Science that the origin of this behavior is unknown. And while there are some reports that speculate that orcas are teaching each other, they say the behavior is only spreading among young orcas because they are imitating older orcas.

Treats believes these events are not attacks, and while some speculate that the whales may be “retaliating”, he does not believe this theory. “I read that something triggered a grown woman and she’s taking revenge and teaching others to do the same by dragging pots and deliberately trying to drown them.” “Raming a pot makes about as much sense as me running full speed into a brick wall. You’re going to get hurt.”

He said he doesn’t believe the idea or the theory that whales are crazy that there are too many boats in the ocean. His theory? “I think it’s just playful behavior that’s gotten out of hand,” he said.

Treats said whales do not eat humans and there have been no reports of them attacking humans. However, this behavioral change in whales is dangerous and can result in the boater being killed.

He said the behavior reminded him of a whale named Luca, who was spotted off the coast of Vancouver, breaking away from his pod and chasing boats. “He later learned to hold the rudders to power the boats, to push the boats around,” Treats said. “In his case, he was looking for social interaction. And he learned that he could prolong the conversation by disabling the boats. And then they would have to live with him.”

Killer whales are social, tactile animals, Treats said. Some people like to rub their bodies together while swimming or boating and feel the sensation of being pushed by the water. “I know of many cases where killer whales will come up and almost put their noses next to the boat’s propeller and feel the water go over them.

Treats said some reports from Spain and Portugal are consistent with this behavior — whales putting their noses up to the back of the boat.

“It’s a little difficult to know what to make of the accounts because if a researcher who understands killer whale behavior, they might describe it differently,” he said, adding that while some boats Operators may feel attacked, a researcher may characterize it as a whale that just rubs against a boat.

“The positive side here can be from rough housing with something else – they certainly interact with rough housing – tactile, touching – we know that killer whales draw their teeth on the body of other whales – it’s all like that. The behavior may be that they’re turning to a boat. And knowing that they’re having fun doing it.”

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