Orcas attack boats off coast of Spain and Portugal

Sunday, August 28th, 2022

There is no record of an orca killing a human in the wild, but orcas are now attacking boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal:

Still, two boats were reportedly sunk by orcas off the coast of Portugal last month, in the worst such encounter since authorities have tracked them.

The incident involving the Storksons is an outlier, says Renaud de Stephanis, president and coordinator at CIRCE Conservación Information and Research, a cetacean research group based in Spain. It was farther north — nowhere near the Strait of Gibraltar, nor the coast of Portugal or Spain, where other such reports have originated.

That is a conundrum. Up to now, scientists have assumed that only a few animals are involved in these encounters and that they are all from the same pod, de Stephanis says.


Scientists hypothesize that orcas like the water pressure produced by a boat’s propeller. “What we think is that they’re asking to have the propeller in the face,” de Stephanis says. So, when they encounter a sailboat that isn’t running its engine, “they get kind of frustrated and that’s why they break the rudder.”


The population of orcas along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts is quite small. Scientists believe that the damage to boats is being done by just a few juvenile males, says Jared Towers, the director of Bay Cetology, a research organization in British Columbia.


Towers points out that such “games” tend to go in and out of fashion in orca society. For example, right now in a population he studies in the Pacific, “we have juvenile males who … often interact with prawn and crab traps,” he says. “That’s just been a fad for a few years.”

Back in the 1990s, for some orcas in the Pacific, something else was in vogue. “They’d kill fish and just swim around with this fish on their head,” Towers says. “We just don’t see that anymore.”


  1. Reuben Norman says:

    They sound like fun animals to drink with.

  2. Phil B says:

    To quote Gaspode (from the Terry Pratchett Discworld books):

    ‘There has never been an authenticated case of an unprovoked wolf attacking an adult human being,’ said Carrot. They were both huddling under his cloak.
    And after a while Gaspode said, ‘An’ that’s good, is it?’
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘We-ell, o’course us dogs only has little brains, but it seems to me that what you just said was pretty much the same as sayin’ “no unprovokin’adult human bein’ has ever returned to tell the tale,” right? I mean, your wolf has just got to make sure they kill people in quiet places where no one’ll ever know, yes?’

    Substitute Orca for Wolf and you get the same conclusion. If an orca wanted to kill a human, then the remaining evidence would be non existent. If they kill and eat leopard seals and great white sharks, I doubt they would have much problem doing the same to a human.

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