Captain Sébastien Destremau’s boat made the news when it was attacked by orcas in May 2023. The attacks were portrayed quite negatively in the news, suggesting that human sailors should fear for their lives and that attacks were arranged by a traumatized leader, White Gladis.
Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family and can weigh up to 5,500 kg. They can certainly pose a threat, but Destremau does not believe the orcas are vengeful. Destremau spoke out after the event, distressed that the news would encourage sailors to take up arms. He warned the public not to try to harm these powerful animals.
He told Newsweek: “They could crush the boat in a heartbeat if they wanted to. But they were not aggressive [. . .] The problem we have is that media are emphasizing the aggression and so people are getting armed. They’re getting a shotgun onboard their boat.”
He admits that he was afraid the orcas would damage his boat during the incident in May. Orcas had sunk a sailboat earlier in the month, and there were 20 orcas swimming toward him. He says around eight orcas began to attack the rudder of his 15-ton boat, and in just a few minutes, they had shattered the bottom of the rudder. Destremau thinks they attack boat rudders because they can look like fins. He observed that most of the orcas were not fully grown.
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Orcas Misunderstood Thanks to Their Nickname ‘Killer Whale’
Ancient sailors dubbed orcas “whale killers”, because groups of orcas hunt large prey, including other whales. The original nickname eventually morphed into “killer whale.” Destremau believes the orcas were probably just playing and hopes these creatures are not portrayed badly because of his story.
Kerstin Bilgmann, a conservation biologist and research fellow at Macquarie University in Australia, is among the scientists who have come forward saying the orcas were not trying to hurt humans: “This is most likely a playful act with no bad intention by the killer whales, as no humans were attacked in any of the cases.”
Orcas Face Many Threats
According to the WWF, orcas face many threats, including:
- Disruption from moving boats
- Underwater noise, which can disrupt feeding and social interactions
- Overfishing and entanglement in fishing nets
- Toxic contamination from pesticides and industrial chemicals
“I am very concerned about the near future for these beasts, and I think we have a huge responsibility to protect these animals,” Destremau said. After all, it’s their world, not ours.
Has the media sensationalized these orca attacks? Tell us in the comments.