Killer whales have been targeting boats in the Strait of Gibraltar (Picture: Getty)
As killer whales continue to attack boats in the Strait of Gibraltar, some sailors have resorted to blasting heavy metal at them – a tactic one expert says could backfire. Badly.
Although no humans have been harmed, at least three boats have been sunk by the attacks, with many more damaged.
Experts are not sure why the animals are behaving in this way, but suspect the attacks may have been prompted by one killer whale, White Gladis, after she was injured by a rudder and suffered a potential ‘critical moment of agony’.
Killer whales are well-known for sharing habits between pods – in 1987, one female in Puget Sound in the northeast Pacific started the trend of wearing a dead salmon on her head. Soon, whales in three different pods were doing the same.
Like the whales, sailors have also been sharing tips on how to avoid the ‘orca uprising’, and this includes blasting heavy metal at them using underwater speakers.
Speaking to the New York Times, Florian Rutsch said he had been using the curated playlist titled ‘Metal for Orcas’ to deter them from approaching his catamaran, just one of many suggestions circulating on Facebook, Telegram and other social media.
Songs include Exceptionally Sadistic by Monument Of Misanthropy and The Blood Of Power by Dying Fetus.
‘It is scary,’ said Mr Rutsch. ‘No one knows what works, what doesn’t work.’
However, not only does the Spanish government specifically prohibit blasting orca with underwater sounds to drive them away, one orca expert warns it could actually have the exact opposite effect.
‘Initially, the playing of loud sounds underwater might mask the signature sounds of sailboats,’ said Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia. ‘But ultimately the whales would catch on and use it to more easily locate vessels playing it.’
Killer whales: the lowdown
Orcas are part of the dolphin family (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)
Despite being called whales, orcas are actually the largest member of the dolphin family, also known as cetaceans.
Their scientific name is Orcinus orca.
Orcas can grow to be almost ten metres long and weigh up to five and a half tonnes.
A male orca’s dorsal fin can grow up to 1.8 metres high – taller than the average UK male.
They can live to be up to 90 years of age.
Killer whales have their own complex language, communicating through a range of clicks, whistles, pulses, squeaks and screams.
Thanks to their awesome hunting skills and 100 pointed teeth, orcas are top predators – even the most feared ocean resident, the great white shark, is no match for them.
He suggested the only way heavy metal could be a true deterrent is if it was played so loudly it hurt the animals, something which sailors absolutely should not do.
Other orca interactions prohibited by the Spanish government include getting between a mother and her calf, throwing food, drinks or rubbish in the sea, or deliberately sailing closer than 60m to an animal.
Killer whales live in groups known as pods (Picture: Getty/500px)
Speaking to Business Insider, Mr Trites continued: ‘The biggest problem with blasting music underwater of any kind is that it is ultimately just adding more noise pollution to the ocean which can have detrimental effects on other marine life.’
Sea traffic, underwater mining, building offshore wind farms and other human activities are all contributing to noise pollution beneath the waves. Many marine animals rely on their hearing to survive, meaning increased ocean noise can limit their ability to find prey or navigate.
In addition, they are having to ‘shout’ above the din to hear each other, either to communicate within groups or find mates.