Killer whales near Spain have sunk 3 sailboats. A lonely orca named Luna who got separated from his family 20 years ago also damaged boats — but scientists say he just wanted to play.

by | May 24, 2023 | Science

The female orca was observed caring for a baby pilot whale.Getty ImagesKiller whales near Spain and Portugal have sunk three sailboats in recent years.An orca name Luna that was damaging boats near Vancouver Island in the 2000s just wanted to play.Luna lived alone and befriended humans for years before he was struck and killed by a tugboat.A string of incidents in which killer whales have rammed into and sunk sailboats may have been triggered by a single, traumatized female, one scientist said — but at least one other orca has previously been documented purposefully colliding into boats, and for much less nefarious reasons.A population of killer whales near Portugal and Spain’s Iberian Peninsula first began having “disruptive” interactions with boats in 2020. Since then, researchers have identified hundreds of incidents in which an orca approached or collided with boat, though most incidents were short and caused minimal damage. The behavior generally follows the same pattern, with the orca approaching the back of the ship and hitting the rudder until successfully causing the boat to stop.In three cases, the orcas have caused sailboats to sink, leading some to brand the interactions as “attacks.” Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal who is studying the orcas, told LiveScience the behavior may stem from a single female named White Gladis who was struck by a boat and has since taken to ramming them. The other orcas may simply be learning the behavior from her.Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Insider he was “blown away” by the recent incidents, adding they were “unprecedented.” However, the encounters reminded him of a young male orca named Luna that engaged in similar behavior with boats around 20 years ago.Luna was part of the L-pod of the Southern Resident Community of orcas, which are endangered. The L-pod today is made up of about 30 individual orcas, who spend their summers near Washington’s San Juan Islands. They eat fish, primarily salmon, and spend the winters hunting along the Pacific Coast, from California to Alaska.But in the summer of 2001, two-year-old Luna somehow ended up all alone.”He got lost and separated from his pod, and was left behind in one of the outer coastal areas of British Colombia,” Trites said.After Luna turned up solo in th …

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