Heavy Metal Sounds Send Killer Whales Into A Frenzy During Standoff With Sailors

In response to increasing orca attacks on boats near the Iberian Peninsula, sailors have adopted a novel tactic: blasting heavy metal music underwater. This approach, initially thought to scare away the orcas, has gained popularity among seafarers.

However, experts like Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, warn that this strategy might backfire. Orcas, known for their exceptional hearing abilities, might eventually use the loud music to locate boats more easily, reports Insider

Orcas use complex vocalizations for communication within their pods.
Photo: Pexels
Orcas use complex vocalizations for communication within their pods.

The Underwater Sound Environment: A Complex Ecosystem

Underwater, sound is an essential tool for marine life. It travels faster and farther than in air, aiding in communication, navigation, and even hunting. According to NOAA, sound is important to marine animals, who rely on it for various activities. The introduction of heavy metal music into this environment, in contrast, poses a significant risk, contributing to noise pollution, which already comes from diverse sources like ships, energy production, and even low-flying planes, Uproxx reports.

They have distinct dialects that vary between different orca populations.
Photo: Pexels
Orcas have distinct dialects that vary between different populations.

Potential Harm to Marine Life Beyond Orcas

While the primary aim is to deter orcas, playing music underwater at high volumes could harm various marine species. The only way the music could effectively repel orcas is by playing it so loudly that it causes them hearing loss, Insider reports, an unethical and harmful practice.

“Initially, the playing of loud sounds underwater might mask the signature sounds of sailboats — but ultimately the whales would catch on and use it to more easily locate vessels playing it,” Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, told Insider.

Sound plays a crucial role in orca hunting strategies.
Photo: Pexels
Sound plays a crucial role in orca hunting strategies.

Uncertainty in Orca Behavior

Scientists are still trying to understand why orcas are targeting boats in the first place. Various theories suggest reasons ranging from playful behavior to possible retaliation for past incidents involving boats and orcas. According to the New York Post, this complex behavior might even be passed down through generations, hinting at a deep social structure within orca pods.

Safe Practices for Sailors

As research continues, sailors are advised to adopt safer practices during encounters with orcas. These include avoiding orcas when spotted, depowering the boat, dropping sails, and maintaining a low profile. It’s crucial to wait until the orcas leave the area before resuming sailing. As the Daily Caller reports, these methods aim to reduce the risk of confrontation without causing harm to the orcas or the marine environment.

Orcas use echolocation to navigate and locate prey in murky waters.
Photo: Pexels
Orcas use echolocation to navigate and locate prey in murky waters.

The Need for a Balanced Approach

The unique situation off the Iberian coast where sailors use heavy metal music to deter orcas highlights the intricate relationship between humans and marine life. As scientists work to understand and address this issue, it’s essential for sailors to adopt practices that ensure their safety and the wellbeing of marine life.

The future of this interaction depends on a balanced approach that respects the natural marine environment while safeguarding human activities at sea.

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