Understanding the unprecedented attacks by orcas on vessels in the Mediterranean Sea

By César Augusto del Río Juárez, Regional Head of CL Marine, AXA Madrid International Hub and member of IUMI’s Inland Hull, Fishing Vessels and Yachts Committee.

The Mediterranean Sea, known for its rich marine life, has recently witnessed an unexpected phenomenon - orca attacks on vessels. These highly intelligent and majestic creatures have baffled scientists and maritime enthusiasts alike with their aggressive behaviour.

In recent years, reports of orcas attacking vessels in the Mediterranean Sea have surged, leading to concern among sailors and marine conservationists. This behaviour is highly unusual as orcas are known for their friendly and curious nature.

While a few encounters could be attributed to accidental collisions or playfulness, the frequency and intensity of these incidents have raised questions about their underlying motivations. Several factors might contribute to these aggressive encounters. One possibility is the declining availability of natural prey due to overfishing and habitat degradation. This scarcity could drive orcas to explore alternative food sources, leading them to approach vessels in search of fish or other marine organisms. Additionally, shifts in water temperatures and the migration patterns of prey species could disrupt the orcas' usual feeding grounds, forcing them to seek sustenance near human activity.

Another hypothesis is that these attacks might be a result of protective behaviour by adult orcas guarding their young from perceived threats. Vessels with propellers and other equipment could pose dangers to orca calves, prompting defensive actions from the adult members of the pod. Although rare, such incidents might occur when vessels unwittingly approach pods with young or vulnerable individuals, triggering a defensive response.

Understanding the root causes of these incidents is crucial to ensure the safety of both orcas and humans. Vessel operators and enthusiasts must exercise caution while navigating these waters, maintaining a respectful distance from pods and refraining from approaching or pursuing them. Authorities should establish guidelines and regulations to promote responsible vessel operating practices and raise awareness about orca conservation.

The rise in orca attacks on vessels in the Mediterranean Sea demands our attention and calls for a proactive approach to preserving the delicate balance between human activities and marine ecosystems. By addressing the underlying factors driving these encounters and implementing conservation measures, we can strive for a harmonious coexistence between humans and these magnificent creatures.