The Stream

Why is the internet in love with the ‘orca uprising’?

On Tuesday, June 27 at 19:30 GMT:
Orcas are continuing to confront yachts and fishing boats, leaving scientists with more questions than answers and many on social media rooting for what they see as the killer whale revolution. But is this really a case of nature fighting back against humans?

Since 2020, groups of orca whales have been colliding with boats in waters mainly off the coasts of Portugal and Spain. Most encounters have been harmless but the ones generating headlines have been described as aggressive, coordinated “attacks” where orcas repeatedly ram the sides of boats or bite off entire ship rudders.

Such incidents are up from 52 in 2020 to more than 200 last year, and three boats have been sunk by orcas, according to the Atlantic Orca Working Group. Other ramming incidents have been reported off the coast of France and more recently off the coast of Shetland in the North Sea.

Orcas are highly intelligent and social animals that travel together in pods. Although they are often called “killer whales”, scientists emphasise that orcas are not known to hunt humans. Some researchers think one whale may be teaching fellow whales a behavioural fad that’s spreading to other pods. The confrontations could perhaps be due to overfishing, increased boat traffic or other invasive human activities. Other scientists think boat ramming is perhaps a misunderstood display of adolescent playfulness.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll hear more about orcas and their recent encounters with humans.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Deborah Giles
Science and research director, Wild Orca

Paul Watson, @CaptPaulWatson
Marine wildlife conservation & environmental activist

Artur Napoleao
Professional skipper