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Boat captain twice ambushed by pod of orcas says "they knew exactly what they are doing"

Are orcas coordinating attacks on boats?
Are orcas coordinating attacks on boats? 06:06

Orcas are making headlines as incidents of killer whales ambushing boats seem to be becoming more prevalent. For one boat captain, it's even happened twice – with the second time seemingly more targeted. 

Dan Kriz told Newsweek that the first time his boat was confronted by a pod of killer whales was in 2020, when he and his crew were delivering a yacht through the Strait of Gibraltar, which runs between Spain and Morocco. While anecdotes of orca ambushes have only recently started rising in popularity, he says he was on one of the first boats that experienced the "very unusual" behavior.

"I was surrounded with a pack of eight orcas, pushing the boat around for about an hour," Kriz said, adding that the ship's rudder was so damaged that they had to be towed to the nearest marina. 

Then in April, it happened again near the Canary Islands, he said. At first, Kriz thought they had been hit with a wave, but when they felt a sudden force again, he realized they weren't just feeling the wrath of the water. 

"My first reaction was, 'Please! Not again,'" Kraz told Newsweek. "There is not much one can do. They are very powerful and smart." 

Video of the encounter shows orcas "biting off both rudders," with one of the whales seen swimming around with a piece of rudder in its mouth, he said. 

This time around, the orcas seemed to be more stealthy in their approach – and even seemed to know exactly what to do to prevent the boat from traveling any farther, Kriz said.

"First time, we could hear them communicating under the boat," he told Newsweek. "This time, they were quiet, and it didn't take them that long to destroy both rudders. ... Looks like they knew exactly what they are doing. They didn't touch anything else." 

The attack on the rudders lasted about 15 minutes. But when the crew started to head for Spain's coast, they came back. 

"Suddenly, one big adult orca started chasing us. In a couple of minutes, she was under the boat, and that was when we realized there was still a little piece of fiberglass left and she wanted to finish the job," Kriz said. "After that, we didn't see them anymore."

Kriz is just one of several people to experience encounters with orcas off the coasts of Portugal and Spain in recent months. In the past two years, orca research group GTOA found that incidents have more than tripled, with 52 interactions in 2020 and 207 in 2022. 

Biologist and wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin previously told CBS News the behavior "highlights the incredible intelligence" of the whales. 

"What we're seeing is adapted behavior. We're learning about how they actually learn from their environment and then take those skill sets and share them and teach them to other whales," he said. 

He said there are two main theories about why this is happening: One, that it's a type of "play" or "sport" for the whales, or two, that it's the result of a "negative experience, a traumatic event" after years of boats hitting and injuring whales. 

But the truth behind why killer whales have been ramming into boats remains a mystery.

"Nobody knows why this is happening," Andrew Trites, professor and director of Marine Mammal Research at the University of British Columbia, told CBS News. "My idea, or what anyone would give you, is informed speculation. It is a total mystery, unprecedented." 

Killer whales are the only species of whale that seem to be attacking boats in this region, and while the reason why is unclear, Trites said something is positively reinforcing the behavior among them.

Caitlin O'Kane contributed to this report.

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