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Researchers Investigate Why Killer Whales Keep Attacking Boats Off Spanish Coast

Although developing circumstances have forced us to become increasingly aware of the impact our presence has on the world, that doesn't mean we can always predict exactly what that impact will be.

Although the effects of climate change and the persistent threat of poaching are urgent and immediate examples of how human activities can affect the world at large, even our smaller practices can trigger some unexpected reactions from the animal kingdom.

For instance, the BBC reported that enough monkeys have become drunk on the leftover cocktails abandoned by tourists on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts that they're likely to fight each other and pester visitors for the chance of securing more alcohol.

And those boating off the respective coasts of Spain and Portugal are increasingly finding their vessels damaged by nearby killer whales. However, scientists seem to be getting closer to figuring out why.

Since August 10, sailors travelling off the coast of Spain's Galicia region have repeatedly seen orcas damage small ships. Similar incidents have occured off the coast of Portugal.

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As The Guardian reported, 22 such incidents have occurred around Galicia so far and a third of them have resulted in damage to the boats involved.

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In a handful of cases, the orcas appeared to have scored direct hits on rudders and other steering systems.

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Although The Guardian reported that the noise and motion at the sterns of boats tend to attract killer whales in general, the actual attacks are considered unprecedented.

Even more curious is the fact that 61% of these incidents have involved three specific whales code named Black Gladis, White Gladis, and Gray Gladis.

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Researchers also discovered that two members of this trio had sustained damage to their fins between June and August.

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As The Guardian reported, this introduces the possibility that the orcas are being influenced by previous encounters with fast vessels, though it's also possible that faster crafts are simply small enough to attack.

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With that consideration in mind, it's not impossible that the whales are curiously experimenting now that they've discovered they can slow down boats.

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But as Newsweek quoted Biology Professor Alfredo López as saying, "It's not revenge. They're just acting out as a precautionary measure."

So if they are reacting to previous harmful incidents, then it seems their attacks on boats would be akin to actions we might take to stop a car that's being propelled forth by an unconscious driver.

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Although no injuries have occured as a result of any of these killer whale encounters, Spain's Ministry of Transport banned certain craft from sailing in the region.

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More specifically, Newsweek reported that ships measuring at less than 49 feet long couldn't sail between Cabo Prioriño Grande and Punta de Estaca de Bares as this stretch encompasses the areas where attacks are most likely.

As The Guardian reported, this ban was lifted after a week as the whales are likely to have already passed through Galicia to chase tuna into the Bay of Biscay.

Still, while we may have some insight into why these attacks are happening, it's unclear whether sailors approaching Spain can expect similar behavior next year and if so, what there is do about it.

h/t: The Guardian, Newsweek

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