Human Safety: Do Orcas Attack Humans? (The Truth)

do orcas attack humans

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Orca, also known as killer whales are notorious for their supreme intelligence and strong family bonds, like us, they nurse their young, experience a range of emotions and are highly social.

They’re formidable predators that have some fascinating hunting techniques that they use to take down seals, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and everything in between.

The relationship between humans and orcas is a complex one, with some indigenous people viewing them as spiritual beings.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at this relationship and answer a question that often comes up when discussing humans and orcas. Do orcas attack humans?

Generally speaking, no, orcas DO NOT attack humans. There have only been a few cases of orcas attacking humans in the wild, and these are EXTREMELY rare.

Let’s take a closer look…

Do Orcas Attack Humans?

Orcas are apex predators that could easily make quick work of any human, but despite this, they choose not to attack humans.

There seems to be a universal rule across all orca pods, which is for them not to attack humans under any circumstance.

In fact, there is no record of an orca ever killing a human in the wild, and this is because humans are not part of their natural diets.

Orcas typically feed on fish, stingrays, sharks, squid, whales, and more, so they’re not interested in trying to eat a human.

do orcas attack humans
Image by Robin Gwen Agarwal

Besides, we wouldn’t exactly be the most nutritious meal for an orca, as we have over 300 bones in our bodies and very little flesh.

But why orcas decide not to attack humans is still somewhat of a mystery, and there’s a lot of speculation as to why they leave us alone.

Why Don’t Orcas Attack Humans?

There are many reasons why orcas don’t attack humans in the wild, with a highly probable one being that they have evolved knowing that humans are not part of their diet.

Orcas rarely come across humans in the wild, so we’re certainly not a reliable food source for them.

Food sources and hunting techniques are passed down through orca pods, so it’s likely that elders did not teach their youngsters to feed on humans as we’re few and far between in the ocean.

Orcas are also highly intelligent animals, arguably the smartest on the planet, so they’re able to recognize and differentiate between species.

They seem to be aware that we too are intelligent sentient beings, and will swim up to boats out of curiosity rather than aggression.

Some lucky people have had amazing experiences swimming with orcas in the wild, in places such as Alaska, Norway, and Canada.

This is possible because orcas don’t view us as food, and allow humans to swim freely without feeling threatened by them.

It’s a magical experience that those people will never forget, but to science, it’s still a mystery as to why these animals just leave humans alone.

We will never know the true answer until we are able to communicate with them.

Have Orcas Ever Attacked Humans?

Whilst there has been no record of an orca ever killing a human in the wild, there has been a handful of fatal attacks by captive orcas.

Of the four fatal attacks, three of them have been caused by the same orca named Tilikum.

One of the most well-known fatal orca attacks happened in 1991 when a trainer named Keltie Bryne was working in Sealand of the Pacific, a now closed park in Canada.

Keltie accidentally fell into the pool and the male orca Tilikum began to play with her, but his behavior quickly became aggressive.

Despite attempts to rescue her, Keltie ultimately drowned, and her death was attributed to drowning and blunt force trauma.

There have been other documented cases of fatal orca attacks on humans, but these have typically involved captive orcas or those at aquariums.

Captive orcas are kept in very unnatural conditions which can cause these highly sensitive animals to become stressed and agitated, making them more unpredictable.

It’s remarkable that during the time orcas have been held captive, there have only been four human fatalities.

Despite the conditions and stress they’re under in captivity, they still hold it together and rarely lose control of their emotions or snap.

The human deaths relating to orcas are horrifying, but it’s important to remember that in their natural habitat, they have never killed anyone.

Are Orcas Friendly With Humans?

While orcas have a fierce reputation for being top predators, they’re actually surprisingly friendly toward humans and have even been observed playing and being curious around us.

Some experts believe that orcas are among the most curious and playful of all marine mammals, as they’ve been known to approach boats, swimmers, and kayaks in the wild.

Being on a kayak and having a pod of orcas swim up to you must be a magical experience and one that I hope to witness myself someday.

There have even been stories of orcas helping to guide boats through dangerous waters, or approaching divers to interact.

Whilst orcas are generally safe animals for humans to be around, it’s important to remember that they are wild animals and to always remain cautious.

Treat these animals with the respect they deserve and you’re likely to have an amazing experience if you are lucky enough to encounter orcas in the wild.

Do Orcas Protect Humans?

Whilst orcas are generally friendly towards humans to some extent, I wouldn’t put my money on orcas protecting me in the wild.

There are some stories of orcas protecting humans from sharks and stopping them from drowning, but finding evidence to support this is difficult.

Orcas actively hunt and kill sharks, so this could have been the orca hunting that subsequently saved the human from what they thought was a shark attack.

do orcas attack humans
Image by Robin Gwen Agarwal

In some rare cases, it is probable that orcas have helped and perhaps saved humans in distress, but these events are few and far between and there’s not much evidence supporting this.

It’s difficult to tell, but what is known and supported is that orcas have a very interesting relationship with humans and seem to hold humans in high regard.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, there have been human attacks and fatalities from orcas, but these are EXTREMELY rare.

Orcas tend to be rather friendly towards humans, as they seem to realize we are intelligent beings too and are not part of their natural diets.

Of the four fatalities from orcas, three have been from the same orca named Tilikum, which was held in captivity.

There are much more stories of wild orcas interacting with humans in a friendly and curious manner than they are of horror stories.

So long as you keep your distance and maintain respect for orcas, there should be no reason for you to be attacked.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I’ll catch you in the next one!