Please Stop Sinking Boats

Please Stop Sinking Boats

Around the Bluhmin’ Town


Judy Bluhm

Oh, Mighty Orcas, please stop sinking boats. The authorities are on to your shenanigans and with over 600 “boat encounters” and numerous fishing vessels and yachts being sunk, it might not end well. The ocean at the southwest tip of Europe, by the Iberian Peninsula, is ground zero for orcas smashing the rudder of ships or just pounding them until they sink. What is going on?

A team of over a dozen marine biologists are studying the behavior and have determined that it is a pod of “teenage males” who are causing all the trouble. No whale over the age of twenty-five is engaging in ramming into boats and while female orcas may watch, they do not participate. As one scientist claims this is just “boys being boys and up to no good.”

The phrase “boys will be boys” is a proverbial saying that implies that bad or aggressive behavior in boys is natural and inevitable. The phrase first appeared in Vermont’s Federal Galaxy newspaper in 1799 after a building fire was set by “boys being boys” and no action was taken. Today, we still use this term to excuse all sorts of behavior, from harmless pranks to annoying disturbances (like getting your doorbell rung at two in the morning).

But let’s not blame the boys. You might recall a female sea otter called Otter 841 that made headlines last year for hijacking surfboards around Santa Cruz. Well, she is back, and up to her old tricks of grabbing the startled surfer’s boards and swimming away. She also likes chewing on them (the boards). She evaded capture last year and federal officials finally gave up and urged surfers and swimmers to steer clear of this curious otter. She now has a pup along with her to teach the art of thievery.

Back to whales, evidently there is an abundance of bluefin tuna and the usual effort that the orcas needed for hunting has dropped dramatically. Too much time on their hands (or fins) evidently leads to boredom and mischief. One whale liked the idea of smashing into the rudders of boats and several other orcas mimicked the behavior. Now an entire pod of “bad boys” are terrorizing sailors and yacht owners.

Scientists point out that whales (like humans) copy each other. One pod of orcas off the coast of Oregon started wearing salmon as “hats” and would swim around with dead salmons on their heads. Other pods of orcas have been found to toss porpoises around in the air and play with them like they are footballs. One biologist said, “whales have a silly streak.”

Sure, but danger lurks when the “silly” is sinking ships or destroying rudders so that boats cannot navigate. It’s a dangerous game and millionaires (and billionaires) don’t like having their yachts ruined or sunk. Maybe the whales are doing this as harmless fun, but humans will only take so much until they want to “intervene.” Fortunately, the Union of Conservation for Nature lists these ship-ramming orcas as critically endangered, so they are protected.

One scientific question remains – is this behavior orca-strated or is it a fluke?

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor. Contact Judy at [email protected] or visit

Send a Message

Whether you have a question about one of my articles, a story you'd like to share, or just want to say hello, you can reach out through this contact form. I'll be happy to hear from you and will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you.