Sailors in southwestern Europe are turning to unconventional tactics to deal with the growing number of killer whale attacks on boats in the region.
Some say they have managed to deter orcas by playing heavy metal music on underwater speakers, describing the method as a “game changer”.
In recent years, sailors in the region have had to face an unprecedented number of attacks, in some cases capsizing ships despite the best efforts of naval authorities.
Boat operators have been forced to turn to online forums and social media platforms to find solutions to a problem that has baffled scientists.
Some said they are now sharing curated thrash and heavy metal playlists in Facebook groups, Telegram chats and other online platforms.
A Spotify playlist that is circulating is called “Metal for Ocas”. Includes heavy metal songs such as “The Blood of Power”, “Infinite Terror”, “Stretched and Devoured” and “Exceptionally Sadistic”.
In the Facebook group “Orca Attack Reports”, which has around 60,000 members, some members of the marine community shared their interactions with orcas and exchanged ideas for deterring them.
Another tactic shared on these forums is to throw sand into the water and then run the engine at full throttle.
There is no scientific evidence that such methods are effective in deterring killer whales from attacking boats.
And individual reports on the use of these methods are different. One person in the Facebook group said playing loud music was a “game changer,” while another sailor said the method didn’t stop the orcas from attacking and damaging his boat.
“When we had an interaction last year, I’m sure shaking our hull while playing Eastern European thrash metal at full volume was the game changer,” said one person in a comment in the group.
“They made three approaches and left after 5 minutes without causing any damage… which happened 2 or 3 minutes into the song.”
German sailor Florian Rutsch, who operates a catamaran for high-end trips and retreats in the Iberian Peninsula, however, said the methods didn’t work for him.
He said The New York Times that he had tried to spread sand and played a heavy metal playlist as a last resort in an orca encounter.
Rutsch said the orcas around his boat were able to reach the rudders and impede steering. His boat ended up being towed by Spanish authorities after a call for help.
“It’s scary,” Rutsch said. “Nobody knows what works, what doesn’t.”
Some sailors are now worried.
They fear that people may resort to more drastic measures, such as using fireworks that could harm underwater animals.
The attacks have intrigued animal behavior scientists.
The frequency of interactions has increased since 2020, said GTOA, a group that researches killer whales in this region and the Strait of Gibraltar.
There has been a sharp two-year increase in aggressive interactions with orcas, with 207 recorded in 2022, compared to just 52 in 2020 over a five-month period, according to the GTOA.
The harassment techniques practiced by orcas seem unique. In the last recorded interaction last month, a pod of orcas relentlessly attacked a yacht in Gibraltar for about 45 minutes before sinking.
The boat operator said the attack focused on the yacht’s steering fin and caused extensive damage and leaks.
Scientists are also investigating whether the Gibraltar attacks are linked to past trauma.
Regardless of the orcas’ motivation, such incidents have highlighted scientists’ more widespread concerns about the impact of human boating activity on intelligent marine mammals.