Off the coast of Spain and Portugal, killer whales have been biting boats. And the famous beluga whale nicknamed “Hvaldimir” has popped up again – this time in Sweden. When first spotted in Norway in 2019, wearing a suspicious harness, some suggested he could be a Russian spy.
These unusual human-wildlife interactions raise questions about managing risk. Both situations present a maritime safety concern. And the whales are at risk of being injured or killed by the boat.
What’s more, fans of Hvaldimir are also putting themselves in harm’s way – by trying to get too close to a wild animal that lives in the water, leaning from boats and dangling from wharves.
So what’s driving these unusual whale antics? And how and when should we intervene?
Iberian killers targeting boats
In southwestern Europe, several killer whales from a critically endangered sub-population off the Iberian coast have been targeting vessels for the past two years.
Mariners have filmed killer whales biting rudders, causing steering wheels to violently move from side to side.
In extreme cases, the killer whales have broken rudders, created holes in boats and sunk at least three vessels, forcing sailors to seek maritime assistance.