Whales Just Want To Have Fun

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For the past five years, young killer whales – or orcas – have been attacking boats and other vessels along the waters off the coast of Spain, Portugal, France and Morocco.

Authorities and scientists have documented more than 673 attacks since they started recording them in 2020, including the sinking of at least five sailboats and two fishing boats

The phenomenon has sparked theories about what’s causing these incidents, with one suggesting they are revenge attacks led by a grieving orca mother.

But marine researchers suggested that the cause is actually more mundane: The teenagers are bored, USA Today reported.

Last month, an international group of orca researchers released a report explaining why this phenomenon is happening and how mariners can avoid these juvenile delinquents.

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

Rose and her colleagues explained that these young whales – belonging to a group of Iberian orcas – are interacting with the vessels because it’s an enriching experience for them. They noted that the sea is a “very boring place” for the youngsters, adding that the young whales are usually “more playful and courageous in approaching boats.”

The team suspected that attacking the boats – especially the rudders – has become a fad among the orcas, as killer whale groups often copy each other’s behavior.

“Obviously, they don’t understand that that play can mean harm to the boats,” said Alexandre Zerbini, another author of the report.

The scientists theorized that this playful behavior emerged from a series of factors, the main one being the whale’s main prey, the Bluefin tuna, seeing a resurgence around those waters.

Zerbini hinted that this food abundance means the killer whales “have time on their hands” to kill, instead of foraging.

While it’s unclear when the fad will die out, the research group proposed a few measures to avoid these encounters, such as changing the appearance of the rudder – or simply staying out of those areas where the Iberian orcas hang out.

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