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Research Suggests Young Whales Are Attacking Ships Just For Kicks

For the last five years, killer whales have been ramming – and in some cases sinking – expensive yachts, fishing boats and motorboats in the crystalline waters off the coast of Spain, Portugal, France and Morocco.

Why has been a mystery – until recently.

A multinational group of orca experts that met in February and were sponsored by the governments of Spain and Portugal has released a report outlining why they think it’s happening and what can be done to stop it.

What originally appeared to be attacks on more than 673 boats since 2020 now seem more likely to be a bunch of bored teenage orcas looking for something to do, said cetacean expert Alexandre Zerbini. Essentially, the whales started a fad of playing with boat rudders.

The report comes two weeks after the first ramming of the season, which resulted in a sailboat sinking at the southern entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. On the morning of May 12, a group of orcas snuck up on a 50-foot sailboat and dove at its rudder, damaging the Alborán Cognac and causing a leak that eventually sank the boat. The two crew members were evacuated to a nearby oil tanker, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

These encounters have been going on for five years, with the first documented encounter happening in May 2020. Since then, at least five sailboats and two Moroccan fishing boats have been sunk.

“It starts in the spring, goes way off the charts in the summer and goes away in fall. That’s because the whales and boats are in the same area at the same time,” said Naomi Rose, a senior scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C., who was part of the working group.

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