Why Are Orcas Attacking Sailboats? Killer Whale vs. Sailing Vessels

Photo of Killer Whale Attacking the Stern Rudder of a Sailboat

Ten killer whale attacks over the past 12 months. That’s more than a series of accidents – orcas are attacking sailboats near Portugal and Spain. But why are killer whales attacking and sinking sailboats?

Video: Researchers debate why orcas are attacking and sinking boats

Speaker 2
I’d say this is some pretty extraordinary orca behavior. These are incredibly intelligent creatures. They learn, they adapt, they discover, and they change their behaviors. They also have all the emotions that human beings have. They have joy, they have fear, and they have malevolence.
What we’re seeing is a very novel learned behavior, but the question is why are they attacking these ships, these sailing vessels?

Speaker 1
And I mean when you start. Thinking about what’s going on, it almost paints this picture. At some point, some orca or the orcas decided that this could have been a threat, and then they had to communicate. It’s either the same pot, or they had to communicate.

Speaker 2
That with other orcas, for this to be going on in different places. Is there a chance this is all the same pod, the same orcas, or does it seem like it’s happening with orcas that may be outside of a family unit? Well, this is likely what we call it.

Residential pod of residential extended family group and this is a behavior just like human beings is through trial and error. It’s through learning and through discovery and what is likely is 1. Orca is teaching another orca, likely a mother teaching its calf this behavior. Now there are two theories as to why this is happening.

One theory is that it’s out of being rambunctious playful behavior towards the very powerful, and there can be devastating consequences. To that playful behavior. But the other is that it’s because of a traumatic event. There’s one female organ in particular. The theory is 1 theory is that maybe she was injured. She had this dramatic event and now she takes a sailboat as a threat. And she’s taught this defensive rather than offensive behavior to other members of her pod.

Photo of Killer Whale Attacking the Stern Rudder of a Sailboat

Three Sailors Speak About Their Sailboat Being Attacked by Killer Whales

Sailors speak out about the seemingly targeted incidents and scientists weigh in on the whale behavior.

…From the Video Comments:

“I don’t blame the whales. They are intelligent. They are being hurt & showing revenge…it’s amazing. Every living creature has emotions….the whales have had enough…wow😢”

“This behavior was virtually unheard of until this last decade. They’re very intelligent animals, and normally gentle creatures with humans, so you do have to wonder what provoked this dramatic change.”

“I think the trauma hypothesis is a good one. Potentially trying to communicate with us to about our behaviour. I am reading a book on Stanford machine learning experts trying to decipher whale language, and so far they believe it is more complex than most of our languages. And that the first thing they will be asked once they can communicate is for whale rights, similar to human rights.”

Here Are The Facts, Orcas vs Sailboats

Here are some facts about Orca Sailboat attacks in 2022 and 2023:

  • There have been at least 10 confirmed attacks on sailboats by orcas in the Iberian Peninsula in 2022 and 2023.
  • The attacks have all occurred in the Galicia region of Spain.
  • The orcas involved in the attacks are believed to be a pod of orcas known as the “Príncipes del Golfo” (Princes of the Gulf).
  • The Príncipes del Golfo pod is a group of about 30 orcas that are known for their aggressive behavior.
  • The orcas in the Príncipes del Golfo pod have been known to attack other marine animals, including dolphins, sharks, and even whales.
  • The reason for the orcas’ attacks on sailboats is unknown.
  • Some experts believe that the orcas are trying to protect their young, while others believe that the orcas are simply curious about the boats.
  • The attacks have caused concern among boaters in the region.
  • The Spanish government has advised boaters to stay away from areas where the orcas have been seen.
  • The government has also said that it is working to develop a plan to protect both boaters and orcas.

Theories Why Killer Whales are Sinking Sailboats

The reason why killer whales are attacking sailboats near the Iberian Peninsula is still unknown. However, there are a few theories.

One theory is that the killer whales are trying to protect their young. Sailboats often travel at high speeds, which can be dangerous to young killer whales. The killer whales may be trying to slow down the boats or even sink them to protect their young.

Another theory is that the killer whales are simply curious about the boats. Sailboats are a new and unfamiliar type of prey for killer whales, and they may be trying to learn more about them.

It is also possible that the killer whales are simply bored. Killer whales are intelligent animals, and they need to keep their minds active. If there is not enough food available, they may start to target other things, such as sailboats.

What Would You Do If Your Sailboat Was Attacked by an Orca?

Here are a few tips…but really, would they even help?

If you are attacked by a killer whale, the most important thing is to stay calm and try to avoid making any sudden movements. If the whale approaches your boat, try to make yourself look as large as possible and make noise. If the whale does attack, try to defend yourself with whatever you have available.

What Do You Think About Killer Whale Attacks Against Sailing Vessels?

Drop us a comment below and share your thoughts. Would our ideas even help? What could you do to keep your rudder from being damaged by a killer whale?

Throw in your two cents, start a discussion