Why I’m Siding with the Orcas on this One

orca with text saying 'i'm joining the war on orcas on the side of the orcas'

You’ve probably heard the news of orcas reportedly hitting and, in some cases, sinking boats in Spanish seas. Even if you haven’t seen the news stories about the phenomenon, you’ve likely seen the posts – and memes – on social media about it.

Researchers believe orcas are hitting these boats in imitation (called social learning) of an older, aggressive orca named White Gladis, who attacked boats after she was hit and traumatised by a fishing boat. No one has been harmed, but three boats have sank and many more have been damaged, with over 250 reports of damage and a further 250 of close encounters since 2020.

And it’s not just Spanish waters – orcas have been reported circling or hitting boats in UK seas and even further north, near Norway. This behaviour is spreading, with many worried about the cost to the fishing industry as well as private boaters.

Whether it’s simply a new game for the orcas, as some have claimed, or a trauma response that has been picked up on by other orcas, I’m joining the war on orcas – on the side of the orcas. Here’s why.

orca in body of water

Put simply, the ocean is the orca’s home. We are trespassing when we enter it, and have to be prepared for its owners to fight back against intruders. Of course, ocean travel and boating is needed for many things, and shouldn’t be banned or anything like that, but these kind of attacks should be expected and prepared for, instead of being treated like a threat. Instead of seeing the orcas as an enemy, we should start seeing ourselves as the enemy of the ocean and its inhabitants.

close up shot of an orca at the seaworld

After the heartbreaking documentary, Blackfish, which reported on the conditions of orcas at Seaworld, the life of captive orcas entered public discourse. After the documentary aired around the world, Seaworld was pressured into ending its breeding programme, making the remaining orcas at Seaworld the last ones bred into captivity. Although the wild orcas have no knowledge of the captive ones, shouldn’t we be giving the orcas a break, considering how we capture and enslave their brothers and sisters for entertainment purposes?

Fishing Industry
stack of fishing nets and ropes in boat

Most of the boats affected by the orca attacks have been fishing boats. The fishing industry is generally terrible for the environment, and is accelerating climate change. If you don’t believe me, here are some horrible (but true) facts about the fishing industry:

  • half of the world’s fish stocks are overfished
  • Nearly one in ten fish are on the brink of extinction
  • the disappearance of cod – a predator – is affecting the food chain
  • bottom trawlers are trapping species like sea turtles and damaging seagrass
  • bottom trawling alone releases more CO2 than the entire aviation industry
  • fishing boats emit a lot of greenhouse gases from burning fuel
  • fishing debris is two thirds of all plastic debris in the ocean
  • nets abandoned in the ocean are made of plastic and nylon and do not decompose
  • microplastics are polluting the seafood that we ingest
  • 66% of sea life is affected by fishing plastic debris such as nets or buoys
  • wild-caught seafood will run out by 2048 if the current trend continues

There are sustainable ways to fish, but more needs to be invested in developing the practices. There also needs to be policies and protections in place to stop pollution created by the fishing industry, otherwise there will be nothing left. Perhaps the orcas are eco-allies? If it discourages fishing boats, let’s leave them to it.

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