Marine Mystery: Orcas Ram, Sink Boats off Spain and Portugal

May 30, 2023

Instead of “killer whales,” perhaps some orcas should be called Blubbery Boat Bashers of the Brine. It's a funny name, but it might be more true for some of these animals. 

No wild orca has ever killed a person. But, a group of these big dolphins is causing trouble near Spain and Portugal. They are hitting ships. They’ve sunk three small boats in the last year and bothered many others. No one knows why. 

“It is a rare behavior that has only been detected in this part of the world,” orca researcher Alfredo López told Scientific American. He was talking about the orcas near Spain and Portugal. 

Researchers have two theories: One idea is that young orcas started hitting the boats because it was a new and fun thing to do. Orcas sometimes do things like this. The other idea is that the orcas are mad at people and are hitting the boats to get back at them. 

“We know their brains are wired to have really complex emotions, and so I think they could be capable of something like anger or revenge,” Monika Wieland Shields told NBC News. She is the director of the Orca Behavior Institute in Washington state. “It’s just not something that we’ve seen any examples of,” she said.

Researchers have recorded hundreds of encounters between orcas and boats in this region since 2020. They say it is happening more often. One in five of these collisions have temporarily disabled the boat. The most recent encounter was on May 4. That's when three orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar attacked a Swiss-owned sailing yacht.  

Everyone on the boat was saved. But the boat sank while it was being pulled to land.  

Photo by Mike Doherty courtesy of Unsplash. 

Reflect: Do you think humans have the right to kill animals that cause damage to human property?

Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. Which phrase from the article is an example of alliteration? (Common Core RI.5.4; RI.6.4)
a. killer whales
b. supersized dolphins
c. Blubbery Boat Bashers of the Brine
d. wild orca
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