Researchers are puzzled by a sharp uptick in orca aggression towards boats focused entirely on the Strait of Gibraltar. Several pleasure vessels have been damaged, with the Alboran Champagne sinking after rescue of its crew.
While many scientists are hesitant to ascribe motive to the curious and alien creatures, Dr. Angstrom H. Troubador of the Cetacean Science Institute says, “Some rogue animals have probably acquired a taste for human flesh.”
The Strait of Gibraltar is the most common sea passage to Europe for migrants from Africa, with over 55,000 crossings so far this year. In just one month, 2,687 people died in this crossing, three times the usual rate. Arabnews reports, “… human traffickers put migrants on packed inflatable boats or plastic canoes that can easily overturn.”
With the number of drownings in the area, Troubador believes that the orcas probably gained the taste for human flesh by scavenging the migrant wrecks. “They’re opportunistic, known for shadowing whalers to feed on carcasses, and there is no reason at all they would pass up feeding on humans.”
However, there is currently no evidence that orcas have ever fed on humans as a normal part of their diet, and killer whales have rarely been documented attacking humans. However, in at least one case, the captive orca Tilikum may have acquired a taste for human flesh after swallowing a homeless man’s arm and violently killing two others.
“What do you think is happening to the thousands of migrants who die each year in attempted crossings of this passage in these barely seaworthy, overladen vessels?” Troubador asked.
“There’s no evidence so far, but that’s survivor’s bias. How could any of these migrants survive such an attack? Only the wealthy, well-made vessels with competent pilots have made it back to report on these attacks.”
As apex predators, pollutants are heavily concentrated in the Iberian Orca’s usual diet of bluefin tuna, leading to extremely low fertility. But the mother orca responsible for most documented attacks, White Gladis, is nourishing a growing family of juveniles and thriving, teaching them how to capsize small crafts in the Strait of Gibraltar.
There is at least one possible account of an orca sinking a boat in the ancient world, Dr. Troubador said, “While currently there’s no evidence, there’s also nothing to stop orcas from eating humans as these are a highly adaptable and intelligent species. Ancient Roman historian Pliny the Elder recorded an orca glutting itself on animal hides that fell from a ship into the harbor at Ostia. The Emperor Claudius ordered the harbor closed off with a net, and in the ensuing battle, the historian witnessed the orca sinking a boat by blowing water into it, before succumbing to a shower of lances.”
Radical advocates of orca personhood hope that aggressive hazing can drive the “nonhuman minds” to stay away from migrant sea lanes, but Troubador remains skeptical. “Like a bear that’s become habituated into eating out of a trash can, this behavior is probably impossible to break.”
Felice Thunberry, orca personhood advocate, tweeted, “Until we can decipher orca languages using new machine learning algorithms and instruct them to avoid eating humans, we should be hesitant to judge their motivations.”
Thunberry added, “Honestly, I’d like to hear their side of the story. There may be a ritual or even spiritual aspect to their consumption of human flesh, and we may be presumptuous to think they are doing it merely to survive. Probably they know that their usual prey are heavily polluted, full of chemicals, while the human prey are relatively clean and healthy. I’m sure they can taste this difference, and they just want the best for their children.”