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Atlantic orcas 'learning from adults' to target boats

A strange, dangerous game of targeting and ramming into small sailing and fishing boats is spreading through a population of orcas off Spain's coast.

Scientists say at least 20 Iberian orcas have now learned the behaviour by copying their elders.

It is believed that one or two orcas started interacting with and damaging small sailing vessels in 2020. 

Scientists told the BBC the animals appear to be "playing" with the boats rather than acting aggressively. 


"It's only a game. It isn't revenge [against boats], it isn't climate change, it's just a game and that's it," said Dr Renaud de Stephanis, a scientist based on the south coast of Spain.

Dr de Stephanis is president of Conservation, Information and Research on Cetaceans (CIRCE), a marine conservation organisation. He said the orcas, also known as killer whales, appeared to be playing a "game" focused on the boats' rudders - part of the moveable steering apparatus that sits in the water.

He and his colleagues have now pinned satellite tracking tags to the fins of two of the fewer than 60 animals in this population, which is critically endangered.

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