In recent months, Spanish and Portuguese waters have seen a puzzling new behavior among killer whales—damage to boats. There have been several reports of large pods of killer whales chasing commercial vessels and ramming and breaching the hulls of fishing boats.
The killer whales’ apparent purpose is unknown, though some experts suggest it may be to shed light on their frustration with increased ship traffic in their habitats. Experts from Spain’s Institute of Oceanography have studied the behavior and believe that the whales may also be competing for food or space with local fishermen.
Scientists are monitoring the significantly increased populations of killer whales in the region, and trying to understand their motivations, in order to take preventive measures against possible boat damages. To minimize the risk of collisions, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen are being advised to avoid areas of high killer whale activity, look out for the presence of whales on their radar systems, and reduce their boat speeds in areas with groups of killer whales.
In the meantime, conservation organizations are calling for measures to decrease ship traffic near breeding grounds and for stricter regulation of fishing practices. To protect the welfare of the whales, government agencies are calling on fishermen to take precautionary measures when navigating through waters they know to be inhabited by killer whales.
The discovery of this new behavior has also sparked further research on the species, as scientists look to learn more about the differences in behavior and the social structure of these complex marine mammals.