A former SeaWorld orca trainer believes the surge in killer whale boat attacks off the coast of the Iberian peninsula is set to escalate.
John Hargrove — who resigned from SeaWorld theme park in 2012 and now advocates for keeping orcas out of captivity — spoke to Bloomberg Opinion in an interview on the latest killer whale vs. boat phenomenon.
“Orcas love having fun, but they can have a much darker side to their mischief when they don’t like what’s been happening to them,” Hargrove told Bloomberg journalists Bobby Ghosh and Howard Chua-Eoan.
Chua-Eoan and Hargrove co-wrote “Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish,” a book on the “realization that the relationship between the human and animal worlds must be radically rethought.”
Given his intimate knowledge of killer whales, Hargrove believes the trend of orcas ramming into vessels is “100% predictable.”
—Bloomberg Opinion (@opinion) May 30, 2023
While most orca interactions with boats are harmless, there has been a spike in aggressive behavior toward boats since 2020, Insider previously reported.
Comparing orcas hitting boats to when people start “roughhousing” just for fun, it can turn aggressive quickly.
“This is exactly what you’re seeing with these boats,” he said, starting off with the killer whales taking control of the rudder, then pushing boats, then escalating to hitting and making holes in the vessels, he said.
Discussing videos of the creatures ramming into boats, “That’s nowhere near as hard as those whales can go,” he added.
Orcas can grow up to 30 feet in length and weigh six tons. “If they wanted to, they could completely tear those boats apart,” said Hargrove.
He said it was likely that these kinds of attacks, particularly in the region near Spain and Portugal, could increase. “This type of behavior always escalates. We’ll be reading more about these events,” he warned.
Commenting on the phenomenon that orcas may imitate one another — Hargrove noted that it is also possible for pods of orcas to teach other pods their actions. The creatures are “so highly intelligent” they can learn from each other very quickly, he said.
While it remains unclear exactly what is causing the interactions between killer whales and boats, the interviewers asked the expert whether people, sailors in particular, should be alarmed.
While boaters, especially those sailing around the Iberian peninsula, should be very careful, he said, ultimately, people should remember that they are in orca territory.
In the end, “the insurance company is going to take care of the boat,” Hargrove said. “That’s the risk, you’ve decided to go out on your boat.”
The takeaway point, he said, is that water is the orca’s world and habitat, and people should respect that.