Mysterious Case of Orcas Attacking Boats

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Fun and games, or something more? Orcas are attacking sailboats in the Strait of Gibraltar for seemingly unknown reasons — here’s what scientists hypothesize.

In May 2023, a 14 m (46 ft) sailing cruiser sank after a group of orcas rammed into it. The orcas, some of the fastest marine mammals, kept pace with the boat, ramming into it and chewing its rudder. The incident lasted about an hour before the orcas left and swam away.

Orcas have one of the largest brains among marine mammals, equivalent in brain-to-body-weight as that of a chimpanzee. And while it is unclear how strong their memory is, they are perhaps the most cultural of all animals — with an ability to understand local dialects, teaching fellow orcas how to hunt, and pass along generational knowledge. They are known to play with their food — and sometimes each other — and pick up on the social behaviors of others.

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