Spanish researcher Victor J. Hernandez told EFE News that fishermen who used sailing ships and illegally fished for the tuna that the orcas preyed on reportedly harpooned killer whales that approached their boat in July. The injuries were reported by a whale-watching operation familiar with the orcas.
“They encountered injured killer whales in August,” Hernandez told NIUS España. “Two adults had harpoons on their heads and another had wound marks on their back, which were probably made by propellers.”
He believes the crew of a fishing sailboat were responsible for this. “Some fish illegally. You are sailing with the bait in place and it is believed that the killer whales would approach the bait, and [the men] were scared and injured them with harpoons. Or maybe they did it just badly, but the fact is, they hurt several. “
In the next few months, several sailing boats reported being attacked by the capsule – a total of over 40 incidents. The orcas primarily attacked the oars of the boats, sometimes tearing them off and drifting the craft, requiring a tow to land for repairs.
“I don’t get scared that easily and that was scary,” Skipper David Smith told the BBC after surviving an attack that lasted two hours. “It was non-stop. I think there were six or seven animals, but it seemed like the youngsters – the smaller ones – were the most active. They seemed to be on the rudder, the wheel spinning very quickly every time there was an impact. “
“They go for sailboats, they have fixation,” said Hernandez NIUS. “I wouldn’t say it’s vengeance, it’s defense. They associate it with danger, they see it as a threat and when they see it again, they defend themselves. “
A team that investigated the attacks reported that no one was injured by the whales, although they may have been terrifying: “In no case was anyone injured by the direct activity of the orcas – although some of the whales were at risk for long-term situations prolonged or nocturnal activity. “
The only killer whales ever reported to have harmed humans were captured orcas – specifically Tilikum, the subject of the documentary Blackfish, which caused three deaths: two of his trainers and a man who got into his tank one night crept into Sea World. A number of other orcas have seriously injured their trainers.
In 1971, off the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, an incident occurred with a group of orcas who attacked a 43-foot sailing ship for no apparent reason, ramming its hull several times and causing it to sink. The family on board the boat did not report any further attacks when she retired on her lifeboat, but they then drifted at sea for 37 days before being rescued. To the best of everyone’s knowledge, the incident was never explained, nor was it repeated.
Scientists trying to explain the Spanish orca attacks warn that these are highly intelligent animals with extremely complex emotional lives, and their reasons for participating in these incidents are also unlikely to be straightforward.
“‘Attack’ has so many connotations that it means they want to cause harm,” notes neuroscientist Lori Marino, who studied the intelligence of orcas and dolphins. “There is concern that people will feel threatened if this is perceived as an attack and will therefore attack the orcas in self-defense.
“But it’s important to note that even if it appears they are dismantling boats, they don’t harm people. They could do a lot more damage if they wanted to, but they never harmed people in the wild, ”Marino told UK website Unilad.