Navigating Whale Territory: Do Whales Attack Boats?

do whales attack boats

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Whales are truly some of the most majestic animals on Earth. They come in many shapes and sizes with around 40 different species in total.

The largest of all whale species is the blue whale. These gigantic animals typically weigh between 130,000 – 150,000kg and have a heart the size of a car!

The good news is that all whale species pose no real threat to humans. They’re too large to consider us as a threat and are not aggressive towards people.

In this post, we’re going to answer a question that many ocean explorers and keen to learn the answer to. “Do whales attack boats?”.

In short, whales rarely go out of their way to attack boats. There have only been a handful of isolated incidents throughout history of whales attacking boats.

Do Whales Bother Boats?

In modern times, whales do not bother boats. Whilst whales are certainly aware of the presence of boats in the area, they are often unphased by boats.

However, if we look back throughout history there have been a handful of attacks on boats from whales, specifically sperm whales.

On November 20th, 1820, in the Southern Pacific Ocean, a sperm whale deliberately attacked and sunk the whaling boat, Essex.

Moby Dick, arguably the most famous whale was never real, but it was inspired by the event that took place on that day.

Whilst on a two-year whaling expedition, George Pollard, the Captain of the Essex has a fascinating story of how the Essex was rammed by a sperm whale.

After abandoning the ship and thousands of miles away from land, Pollard and his crew escaped with lifeboats to begin a horrific ordeal of sickness, cannibalism, and starvation.

It’s thought that the reason the sperm whale deliberately attacked the ship was that it recognized the ship as a whaling ship and understood what was happening to them.

Sperm whales have the largest brain on the planet and are highly social creatures.

They can communicate over vast distances through a series of clicks, so it’s not hard to imagine they understood their destined fate.

Do Whales Flip Boats?

Whales are certainly more than capable of flipping over boats if they wanted to, be such an event is incredibly rare and has only happened a couple of times.

Vessel strikes are surprisingly common all around the world, but often they’re never felt by the captain of the ship due to the ship’s enormous size.

Smaller boats that find themselves being accidentally struck by a whale may not be so lucky, and sometimes this can result in the flipping of the boat.

An incident happened recently in New Zealand where five people died after a whale caused a small to flip over.

Scenarios like this are incredibly rare. When you take into account the size of some whales, even a small bump could cause many boats to flip over.

Fishing boats, charter vessels, and kayaks are the most likely to be flipped over by whales, which is why it’s incredibly important to always stay vigilant as accidents can and do sometimes happen.

It’s worth noting that whales are generally not a threat to boats, they’ll often stay a distance away and are not interested in causing us harm.

Do Whales Bump Ships?

Whales are bumping into ships all across the world on a regular basis. They don’t run into the ships on purpose, they just fail to move out of the ship’s way.

According to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Ship Strike Database, there were 605 confirmed, known as definite, collisions between a whale and a vessel between 1820 – 2019.

This number is incredibly low, and there are much more vessel strikes going on in the world that go undetected.

The reason for this is that many ships that travel the oceans are so large that they do not feel so much as a wobble after knocking into even the largest whales.

In fact, according to research carried out by the non-profit Friend of the Sea, ship strikes kill more than 20,000 whales every single year.

This is a frightening statistic, especially when you consider how many whale species are still recovering from the commercial whaling industry.

Friend of the Sea has identified eleven key spots where strikes are especially common, these are areas where shipping lanes cross prime feeding and breeding areas for whales.

The key areas and whale species that affect endangered species are:

  • Blue whales in Sri Lanka
  • Sperm whales in the Canary Islands
  • Humpback whales in Panama

The good news is that the International Whaling Commission is currently collaborating with other agencies to find a solution to the problem.

Do Any Whales Attack Boats?

It’s incredibly rare for whales to purposefully go out of their way to attack boats in today’s world. Whilst it has happened a handful of times in the past, it rarely happens today.

However, recently Killer Whales have been observed attacking sailboats off the coast of Portugal, and it’s baffling scientists as to why.

Killer whales, whilst technically a species of dolphin are the apex predators in the ocean. They’re top of the food chain and incredibly intelligent, powerful cetaceans.

Officials have now recorded numerous attacks of Orca attacking small vessels all along the coast of Spain and Portugal.

Whilst scientists believe the Orca may be just “playing”, the consequences have been very real and it’s caused scientists to reconsider how people should interact with them.

The Sun recently reported an incident that details a pod of killer whales sinking a tourist boat which resulted in five people being rescued in lifeboats.

Final Thoughts

Now that we know whales rarely attack boats and that they’re generally not interested in boats or causing humans harm, you can safely enjoy our whale-watching trip without worry.

I would like to reiterate the fact that whales “attacking” boats is VERY rare, and whilst I’ve detailed some instances throughout this article of it happening, it’s important to remember that this way back when commercial whaling was rife.

Whales are wonderfully majestic animals that should be admired and respected in our oceans.

It’s a sad reality that oftentimes they end up colliding with large ships accidentally, but you should not be afraid of whales if you encounter them in the ocean.

Witnessing these ocean giants can be a life-changing experience for many, so enjoy it without worrying that a whale is going to strike your boat.

See you in the next one.