In a startling incident off the coast of Scotland, an orca made headlines by repeatedly attacking a yacht in the North Sea. This marks the first known orca attack in northern waters, indicating that the recent wave of orca attacks on ships may be spreading.
The yacht captain, Wim Rutten, described the experience as terrifying, emphasizing the loud breathing of the orca during the attack. The whale repeatedly rammed the boat, creating soft shocks through the hull. After ceasing its assault, the orca ominously followed the vessel, seemingly fixated on the keel. Rutten recounted that the whale disappeared briefly but returned at high speed, circling the boat multiple times.
Previously, such aggressive behavior was almost unheard of among orcas, which had rarely approached, let alone attacked, humans or their vessels. However, starting in 2020, documented encounters began to demonstrate a shift in orca behavior. These encounters escalated to the point of sinking ships, as seen in recently released footage of an orca slamming into a sailboat off Spain’s southern coast.
Scientists believe that orcas, highly social creatures, teach this behavior to their pods, leading to its spread. The fact that the behavior has extended from the Strait of Gibraltar to the waters off Scotland is surprising but deemed possible by some experts.
Conor Ryan, a marine biologist and scientist advisor for the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, suggests that the behavior might be leapfrogging through different orca pods or communities.
Regarding the motive behind these attacks, scientists have put forward several theories. One possibility is that the orcas are simply having fun as apex predators. Rutten himself speculated that the orca might have been seeking to play. However, there is also a prevailing theory that these acts of aggression could be driven by revenge, although some experts question this idea.
In any case, the current behavior exhibited by orcas could be considered a “fad” among them. The duration of this trend remains uncertain, and it is yet to be seen how long this aggressive behavior will persist among orca populations.