Remember ‘Free Willy’? That movie makes you create a soft corner for whales in your heart. But whales aren’t as cute as the movie portrays them.
I don’t mean they are like sharks, the bloodthirsty monster you saw in ‘Jaws.’ But if you have read Moby Dick, you would know what I am talking about.
Does that mean you should be on the lookout on a boating trip? Are whales dangerous to boats? Or is it just a myth?
You will find the answers to all your questions in this article. Keep reading!
The Largest Sea Mammals: Important Whale Facts
Whales are torpedo-shaped marine mammals that can have a size of 2.6 meters to 34 meters. These mammals can weigh around 135 kg to 190 metric tons (190000 kg!).
They have inflexible necks, flippers instead of limbs, and a large tail fin.
There are two main types of whales, the baleen and toothed. The toothed variety feeds on large fish and squids, whereas the baleen group uses fibrous plates (baleens) in their mouths to filter out crustaceans, plankton, and krill.
Beluga, sperm, humpback, gray, blue, right, and killer whales are some of the main species. Out of these, blue whales are the largest (90 feet) and can weigh as much as 24 elephants.
Killer whales (the one in ‘Free Willy’) aka Orca are highly social whales that travel in groups and exist as a family of mother and kids.
Oceans and seas worldwide have whales in them, but whales prefer the Northern and Southern hemispheres, where the water is cold.
They travel towards the equators to give birth. But some species can be found in tropical seas all year round.
Role In Ecosystem and Climate
Being the largest sea mammals, whales need to eat a lot of food every day to survive. An average blue whale eats up to four tonnes of krill every day.
Therefore, whales play a role in maintaining the balance of the sea’s ecosystem, which would otherwise get too crowded.
Whales have their predators, too, such as some deep-sea creatures and killer whales (killer whales themselves have no predators).
Moreover, when a whale dies, its carcass sinks to the bottom (whale fall) and serves as a food source for plenty of deep-sea organisms.
Another advantage of whales is that their defection is in liquid form, which stays on the ocean’s surface. It is rich in nutrients, so phytoplankton feed on it.
Phytoplankton, in turn, helps by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen into it. Thus, making about 50 to 85 % of the oxygen we breathe and decreasing global warming.
Whale Attacks: Incidences From Around The World
Whales don’t prey on humans, but several reported whale attacks have done severe harm to them. Following are a few examples.
From 1970 to 2015:
- A 35-year-old woman died on 11 March 2015, on a snorkel tour, about two kilometers from the Cabo San Lucas resort in California. She fell in the water when a gray whale breached the sea surface and crashed on the tourist boat, where two other tourists also suffered injuries.
- In July 2010, a couple onboard a yacht encountered a 40-tonne right whale that jumped on their ship and caused considerable damage to it.
- On 18 June 2012, a 50-foot sailboat, about 40 miles off Mexico’s coast, sank due to a hole created by a whale hitting the boat’s hull.
- 15 June 1972, a 13-meter long schooner sank due to an attack by a killer whale group. Its passengers survived after escaping on an inflatable raft and dinghy.
- In 1989, William and Simone Butler lost their sailboat ‘Siboney’ to the sea when a large group of whales rammed it. The couple survived by taking refuge in a life raft.
Recent Attacks in 2020:
In 2020, several killer whales have been harassing sailboats along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts.
The number of attacks is alarming, which has raised concern, and even scientists are puzzled by this type of aggression shown by the killer whales. Some of the incidents are as follows:
- On 29 July, near Cape Trafalgar, Spain, a 46-foot delivery boat was rammed by nine killer whales for over an hour. They broke down the boat’s rudder and engine.
- A group of orcas attacked a motorboat in the middle of the night on 22 July. They spun the boat, in an attempt to tip it, and carried on the activity for 20 minutes.
- Another attack occurred earlier that same day when a 34-foot yacht was spun 180 degrees and pushed around for 15 minutes.
- Two attacks took place on 30 August, where a French and Spanish vessel suffered damage. The Spanish naval yacht lost a part of its rudder due to the whale attack.
It’s not clear why whales attack boats, but according to some researchers, the recent attacks are probably a revenge act on humans, as killer whales feed on tuna. And they know fishing ships come up and steal all their food.
Other marine researchers think the whales liked the quiet sea during the Covid-19 lockdown and don’t like the noise pollution that has returned.
What Precautions Can You Take To Avoid A Whale Attack?
You can take the following measures to stay safe:
- If you are interested in whale-watching, then make it a rule to stay at least 100 yards away from the mammal.
- When boating or fishing, take routes that avoid dense whale areas. But if it is necessary to go into that area, then keep your boat speed at 10 knots or less to ensure safety. (It prevents high-speed collisions)
- Keep a close watch for dorsal fins and blows on the water. In case of a sighting, change your boat’s direction in the opposite way to distance from the mammal.
- Depth sounders should always be kept turned on, as whales can hear the pulse emitted by them, which wards them off.
Are Whales Dangerous To Boats: Final Thoughts
Humans are a threat to whales’ survival in so many ways, primarily through industrial pollution and fishing. Then, in my opinion, their act of retaliation by attacking our boats is justifiable. What do you think?