Monday, May 29, 2023

Iberian Sailboats and Orcas

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Learning, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

An essay by Sasha Pare for LiveScience is recommended in the May 23rd Nature Briefing, a daily newsletter for the journal Nature. (The link to the essay is found at the end.) This is how Nature Briefing reported it.

"Orcas (Orcinus orca) have sunk three boats off the Iberian coast of Europe, and the behavior seems to be spreading. Biologists first noted the trend in 2020. They suspect that it is a defensive behaviour, which originated with a female orca nicknamed White Gladis after it experienced an unknown trauma. Iberian orcas (in Spanish and English) are critically endangered, and only 39 were recorded in the last census, in 2011."

A scientific report with multiple authors was published in Marine Mammal Science titled "Killer whales of the Strait of Gibraltar, an endangered subpopulation showing a disruptive behavior." The difference between the title of a scientific publication and a popular publication is not much for a change.  The senior author is Ruth Estaban. Just a smidgin of the article can be read but you can still learn more about the authors.

Sasha Pare reports on a recent attack and sinking of a sail boat, where orcas direct their attack, the skippers thoughts about the teaching he thinks is occurring (with another example), that the interactions are not uncommon (more than 500 since 2020 resulting in 3 sinkings), a couple of hypotheses - defensive behavior based on trauma or possibly a "fad "(those teenagers!). These whales are social creatures, observant and learn from the mother and siblings.

Pare closes with a quote from the scientific paper. "'If this situation continues or intensifies, it could become a real concern for the  mariners' safety and a conservation issue for this endangered subpopulation of killer whales.'" 
Here is Pare's reporting. Please read it.


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