Young killer whales are learning to ram boats from older whales in a terrifying "game" for sailors, scientists say.
Boffins say at least 20 Iberian orcas have now learned the behaviour by copying their elders which is leaving rudders in pieces.
The bizarre phenomenon of unlikely maritime destruction is understood to have first been witnessed in 2020 and has been spreading among orcas ever since.
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But captains of small boats being smashed from beneath aren’t on the menu for the giant predators, boffs claim.
Marine conservation expert, Dr Renaud de Stephanis, insisted: "It’s only a game. It isn’t revenge [against boats], it isn’t climate change, it’s just a game and that’s it."
As part of his team’s research, satellite tracking tags have been pinned to some of the orcas which is helping the Spanish government inform sailors of how to avoid them.
A current hotbed for the marine mammals is the coast of Portugal and Spain, and through the narrow Strait of Gibraltar where they hunt for tuna.
Dr Renaud explained: "There’s foam inside the rudder that went into the water, and the orcas were pushing it around with it on their noses – like a toy.
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"I had the feeling they were training each other.
"There were two calves, and the adult would do it, then watch while the calf did it – like they were transmitting something," he added.
Dr Luke Rendel, from St Andrews University, said the rise in orca boat attacks suggests that no matter the data, sailors will struggle to dodge the creatures.
The only way to keep rudders safe and prevent sailors fighting back with the likes of firecrackers, is simply to stop travelling through their hunting ground, he said.
He added: "Ultimately, if we want the behaviour to stop, we have to take the boats out of that environment."
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