June 21, 2024
Annapolis, US 90 F

Profs and Pints: About Those Orcas Ramming Boats

Orca encounters don’t rate as a concern for sailors of the Chesapeake Bay, but off parts of Northern Africa and Europe’s Iberian Peninsula it’s a different story. There the members of an endangered killer whale population have enthusiastically taken up a new game—bump the rudder—that’s no fun at all for the yacht crews whose vessels such antics might leave incapacitated. While news coverage of the incidents has left some people amused and proudly declaring themselves to be on “Team Orca,” those involved in orca conservation fear that it’s only a matter of time before someone drowns and the region’s killer whales end up becoming the hunted.

Profs and Pints is bringing to the Graduate Annapolis an orca researcher deeply involved in the international efforts to find a way to stop the clashes between orcas and yachts.  (Date: June 11, 2024, 5:30PM)

Naomi Rose, a senior scientist in marine mammal biology at the Animal Welfare Institute and frequent guest lecturer at universities, will leave her audience in the hotel’s Trophy Room bar and restaurant with a thorough understanding of orcas and their habits. She’ll describe regional variations in the whales’ appearance and ways and she’ll discuss orcas’ embrace of behavioral fads like wearing dead salmon on their heads. Her talk, which already has received rave reviews from audiences in Washington and Baltimore, is sure to leave those on hand in Annapolis deeply fascinated by orcas and appreciative of how much the whales, like Profs and Pints fans, love to learn.

Here are details of the upcoming talk:

Along the coasts of France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, and Morocco lives a critically endangered population of about 40 orcas, or killer whales, that has been gaining notoriety by bumping boats and wrecking rudders.

Only a few orcas were involved in the first such interactions back in 2020. Since then, however, about half of this population has gotten into the act. They’ve rammed the rudders and disabled the navigation of hundreds of vessels—mostly sailing yachts—off the Iberian Peninsula. At least six boats have sunk.

Frustrated and frightened mariners are urging authorities to intervene, raising concern among conservationists, who fear these orcas might end up getting hurt or killed for simply, from the animals’ perspective, interacting with objects in their environment.

Come gain an understanding of why these interactions are happening, why they are unlikely to spread, and if, or how, they might be brought to an end with Dr. Rose, a whale expert who works on numerous marine mammal welfare and conservation issues for the Animal Welfare Institute, a non-profit animal protection organization based in Washington D.C.

Dr. Rose was instrumental in drafting and distributing an open letter from 80 marine mammal experts urging the public not to demonize or mythologize the Iberian orcas. In addition, she recently attended a Madrid workshop convened by Spain’s government where she and fellow experts discussed what the whales are doing, why they are doing it, and what authorities can do to protect both the orcas and the mariners and their vessels.

Her talk will give you a much greater appreciation of orcas and their behavior, as well as an understanding of how scientists are grappling with the dilemmas raised by orcas who aren’t playing by our rules. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Doors open at 4 pm and talk starts at 5:30 pm.) 

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