An orca in blue ocean water, swimming beside a boat where three people stand, looking at it.

Orca Wars / Killer Whales Attacking Boats

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Updated Jun 20, 2023 at 11:52AM EDT by Zach.

Added May 22, 2023 at 08:02AM EDT by Aidan Walker.

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Orca Wars, also known as Killer Whales Attacking Boats, refer to a series of attacks by orca whales against ships sailing in waters around Europe, particularly near Spain. The orcas carried out coordinated attacks and taught each other tactics for sinking and disabling ships, such as destroying rudders. According to a report published in the spring of 2023, orca attacks off the coast of Spain and Portugal accelerated after 2020 when a female orca named White Gladis who was "traumatized" by a human ship reportedly began teaching others to attack ships. Particularly in the summer of 2023, the news sparked memes and commentary online about a possible "orca war," in which the marine mammals would turn against human beings.


Scientists believe that White Gladis, a member of a highly endangered species, was attacked by an illegal fishing ship at some point in 2020. Suffering a "critical moment of agony," the orca whale fought back, and since then, other orca whales have imitated her. Over 100 attacks on ships have been reported since 2020, with three of them sinking. The attacks predominantly happened off the coast of Spain and Portugal.[1]

The orcas appear to target the rudders of boats, which move in the water and cause vibrations. The increase in violent orca-boat interactions led the government of Portugal to issue a notice in November 2020, advising sailors to turn off the engines of boats if orcas are sighted.[2] During a May 4th attack on a German yacht in the strait of Gibraltar, "the little (orcas) shook the rudder at the back while the big one repeatedly backed up and rammed the ship with full force from the side," and succeeded in sinking the boat.


Scientific Evidence Of Orca Aggression

A paper published by Spanish scientists in June 2022 described the orca attacks to the wider academic community.[3] However, two sinkings in early May 2023 led to the website Live Science running a story on May 18th, 2023, about the orca attacks and other publications following suit shortly after.[1]

Continued Attacks

In the weeks after the publication of the LiveScience story about the Orca attacks in mid-May 2023, more took place, including some which were caught on video. The news site Brut shared one such clip to TikTok (seen below) on June 10th, which earned almost 300,000 likes in a week and showed a sailor on a ship under attack by "eight to ten orcas."[13]

Many online, such as Twitter[11] user @1followernodad (seen below, right), applauded the orcas, rejoicing at their aggression. Their tweet received nearly 36,000 likes over the course of June 6th, 2023, and the week after.

Sophia Benoit @1followernodad. Jun 6 YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! 207 H Killer Whales Toss Yacht Around Like 'Rag Doll' In 20th Orca Attack In... The waters around the Strait of Gibraltar have been the site of dozens of attacks. t 3,640 35.9K : 2.2M ↑

Some also suggested that the attacks might be a form of a game the orcas are playing as the attacks are not a food-seeking behavior since the orcas don't eat when they capsize boats.

Unexpected Gatherings Of Orcas

On June 10th, 2023, a pod of about 30 orcas was spotted gathering in Monterey Bay, California, a location where orcas are not usually present. On the other side of the United States that same day, four ocas were spotted in the waters off Massachusetts — another unusual sighting.[9]

Several news outlets announced these unusual sightings as the story spread and some users saw them as evidence of the orcas coordinating some sort of attack. For example, on June 14th, Twitter user @awhalefact tweeted that the animals were "orcanizing," which received over 10,000 likes in less than 24 hours (see below, left).[10] On June 13th, Twitter user @CriminalUnion FCW (seen below, right) pointed out that the orcas seen off New England appeared to be with dolphins and other marine mammals, suggesting cross-species solidarity. This post received almost 34,000 likes in two days.[12]

whalefact @awhalefact. 23h they're orcanizing. it is time CNN CNN @CNN Jun 14 Around 30 killer whales were spotted in Monterey Bay over weekend with no clear explanation why so many had gathered. "EXTRAORDINARY" SIGHTING NEWSROOM 30 KILLER WHALES SPOTTED IN CALIFORNIA'S MONTEREY BAY CNN 0:19 62 t 1,175 9,840 ₁388.4K -- Evan Brodsky California Killer Whale Project : Fort Wayne Crime Erin @Criminal UnionFW . Jun 13 The orcas are organizing internationally across species now ENGLAND AQUARIUM Researchers spot rare sight: Orcas in New England waters, along with dozens of other whales, dolphins ALT WHDH. 4h 413 t 7,485 33.5K ₁7.5M :

The Atlantic Article

On June 17th, 2023, The Atlantic[19] published an article by staff writer Jacob Stern titled "Killer Whales Are Not Our Friends," which described the unfolding killer whale situation and scolded people on the internet for joking about it and embracing the orcas. In the article, Stern attempts to debunk the narrative around the orca attacks, writing that instead of being motivated by revenge the orcas are motivated by playfulness, as well as attempting to draw a more unsympathetic portrait of orcas as fierce predators.

Pro-orca posters quickly seized on the article, criticizing both The Atlantic and the author for what some perceived as an anti-orca stance. For example, on June 17th, Twitter user @nirol__ accused Stern of pro-boat sympathy, earning almost 75,000 likes in three days (seen below, left).[16] Also that day, Twitter user @dieworkwear argued that The Atlantic's anti-marine mammal stance was surprising given that the magazine is named after an ocean, and earned over 37,000 likes in a similar timeframe (seen below, right).[17]

Suspected Involvement In Submarine Sinking

The Orca Wars story took another turn after the disappearance of a luxury tourist submarine visiting the Titanic wreckage on June 18th, 2023. As word spread, posters on platforms like Twitter connected the two stories. For example, on June 19th, Twitter user @lwt_gorgeousrry (seen below) earned over 20,000 likes in 18 hours quoting "no body, no crime" by Taylor Swift to suggest the orcas were responsible for the high-profile maritime disaster.[18]

Online Reactions

As word of the so-called "Orca Wars" spread online in May 2023, Twitter users like @vinn_ayy expressed doubts about humanity's ability to fight the killer whales, receiving almost 18,000 likes in two days for tweeting (seen below, left) on May 20th that "we are not prepared for an orca war."[5] Others, like user @roxiqt, also joked on May 20th about the new hobby that the orcas had learned, receiving almost 40,000 likes in a similar timeframe (seen below, right).[6]

Vinny Thomas @vinn_ayy May 20 we are not prepared for an Orca War. We do not have the resources. cas have sunk 3 boats in rope and appear to be aching others to do the me. But why? WS By Sascha Pare published 2 days ago 246 entists think a traumatized orca iated the assault on boats after a itical moment of agony" and that t Reports of aggressive encounters with orcas havior is spreading among the off the Iberian coast began in May 2020 and are becoming more frequent, according to a study published June 2022 in the journal pulation through social learning. Marine Mammal Science. Assaults seem to be 2,171 smaller and one larger orca," skipper Werner Schaufelberger told the German publication Yacht. "The little ones shook the rudder at the back while the big one repeatedly backed up and rammed the ship with full force from the side." Schaufelberger said he saw the smaller orcas imitate the larger one. "The two little orcas observed the bigger one's technique and, with how to charge into the rudder. "It was definitely some form of education, teaching going on," Blackburn told 9news. 17.8K 1M 企 I am a: Roxi Horror @roxiqt male female nonbinary orca Interested in: men women nonbinaries sinking boats in Europe 4:06 AM • May 20, 2023 766.1K Views 5,647 Retweets 65 Quotes 38.7K Likes 269 Bookmarks ...

Others expressed support for the orcas. For example, on May 20th, 2023, Twitter user @spicygolem posted an I Wish All Lesbians A Very Pleasant Evening meme wishing the orca whales luck in their campaign against the boats, receiving almost 500 likes in two days (seen below).[4]

i wish all Orcas in Europe a very pleasant sinking all the boats they find

For some, the attacks reminded them of Freya the Walrus, another endangered marine mammal who got into trouble for aggressive behavior in Europe. For example, Twitter user @vinn_ayy, while despairing about humanity's chances in the orca wars, posted about Freya and received over 500 likes on May 20th (seen below left).[7] Also on May 20th, 2023, Twitter[8] user @LucyASnyder posted about the orca attacks imagining a note they'd leave behind, receiving over 1,300 likes and 330 retweets in two days (shown below right).

Sarah the Prairie Hag @sweetcheetah May 20 After Norway euthanized Freya for sinking boats, I'm hopeful that a walrus contingent might join the Orca War. 2 t 10 506 il 14.9K ↑ Lucy A. Snyder @LucyASnyder THE ORCA LEAVES A NOTE I have sunk the yachts that were in our ocean and upon which you probably spent millions of dollars Forgive me they were destructive so dirty and so loud 7:41 PM May 20, 2023 38.2K Views . 331 Retweets 12 Quotes 1,337 Likes 23 Bookmarks

In June 2023, as more orca misbehavior gripped headlines, more memes flowed. For example, the June 14th meme (seen below, left) posted by Twitter user @marionnumber4 in the replies to a thread full of orca memes earned almost 1,500 likes in a day, while the meme (seen below, right) posted by @Tim_Vollert (riffing off the BORN TO DIE format) earned almost 100 on the same day.[14][15]


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Fun Orca facts:

1. Arguably the apex predator for every ocean they exist in if you don't count Humans.
2. Will kill Great White Sharks by stealing their liver and nothing else, leaving the body to intimidate other sharks.
3. Incredibly intelligent: One scientist accidentally taught an Orca how to have a snowball fight by simply throwing one at it, the Orca immediately began punting small chunks of ice back at the ship in response.
4. Debatably have culture and are known to pass knowledge and information between each other, mostly about complex and surprisingly effective hunting tactics.

I only have one question, specifically about the poachers:

Mistress Fortune
Mistress Fortune

Frankly I'm with the orcas. Yes I'm biased as fuck because orcas are my favorite sea animal, but still. I know in general orcas rarely ever harm humans (only major instances of orcas killing humans were only with ones in captivity at Sea World that were subjugated to shitty living conditions), and according to some studies apparently the way orcas view humans is they look at us the same way humans look at domesticated dogs and cats, so if an orca is going "fuck your ship you asshole" then I feel like you probably fucked up badly.


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