A sailor has told how his yacht was repeatedly rammed by an Orca off the coast of Scotland.  

Dr Wim Rutten, a 72-year-old retired Dutch physicist and experienced yachtsperson, was sailing solo from Lerwick on Shetland to Bergen in Norway when the seagoing mammal attacked his boat.  

He was fishing for mackerel with a single line off the back of the boat, when the orca suddenly appeared in the clear water and hit the stern of his seven-ton vessel. 

Dr Rutten told the Guardian newspaper the whale hit again and again, creating “soft shocks” through the aluminium hull. 

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“What I felt [was] most frightening was the very loud breathing of the animal,” he said. The orca stayed behind the boat “looking for the keel". Then he disappeared from view, but later came back and circled the yacht. 

“Maybe he just wanted to play. Or look me in the eyes. Or to get rid of the fishing line,” Dr Rutten said.  

The Herald:

Orca are inquisitive animals 

Orca, previously known as killer whales, are powerful predators which hunt seals and large fish. Despite their strength, there have been no recorded attacks on humans. 

However, boats have been targeted in the past. The same behaviour that has been observed recently in the orca population living in the waters near Spain, but it is the first time it has been known to happen in northern seas. 

Highly social cetaceans, orcas use complex vocalisations to communicate and to hunt for food. They learn matrilineally, and post-menopausal females assume the greatest importance in individual pods.  

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“Grandmothers” in the Iberian population of whales have been seen observing during the interactions with yachts and other vessels. Experts believe this could be influencing uvenile whales.  

Dr Alfredo López, of the Grupo de Trabajo Orca Atlántica in Portugal, said: “We know that many boats use fishing lines from the stern to fish and it is a motivation for orcas, they come to examine them.”  

But the focus on boats’ rudders may come from adult whales who have developed an aversion towards boats, perhaps because they “had a bad experience and try to stop the boat so as not to repeat it”. 

This learned behaviour should have appeared nearly 3,000 miles (4,800km) from Gibraltar.  

The Herald:

Dr Conor Ryan, a scientific adviser to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, who has studied orca pods off the Scottish coast, said: “I’d be reluctant to say it cannot be learned from [the southern population]. It’s possible that this ‘fad’ is leapfrogging through the various pods/communities.” 

Dr Ryan said there may be “highly mobile pods that could transmit this behaviour a long distance”. López thinks, however, “that human activities, even in an indirect way, are at the origin of this behaviour”.  

Increased marine traffic, dwindling food sources, warming seas and noise pollution could all play a part