White Gladis, the killer whale who could be behind orcas attacking boats, may have been pregnant when she started the 'uprising'

A pod or orcas swimming with their fins cresting over the surface of the ocean with a baby killer whale swimming behind them
A pod of orcas, or killer whales, with a baby orca among them.Getty Images
  • Scientists say the orca White Gladis may have been pregnant when she started ramming into boats.

  • Her unusual behavior in 2020 likely followed a moment of agony near the same time, one expert said.

  • White Gladis later gave birth to her calf in 2021, following a 15- to 18-month pregnancy.

White Gladis is among a pod of killer whales that have been ramming boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal, near the Iberian Peninsula, for several years.

These encounters have become increasingly common and are reported to be happening almost daily. The animals have already sunk three boats and torn off the rudders of others in what's being called an "orca uprising."

White Gladis is just one among many orcas displaying this behavior. But what makes her special is that she's believed to be the orca who started it all. And now, recent reports suggest she was pregnant when it all began.

Who is White Gladis?

White Gladis started ramming boats in the summer of 2020 and later gave birth to her calf in 2021, according to LiveScience.

Since orca pregnancies typically last about 15 to 18 months, the timing suggests that she was probably pregnant when she started deliberately swimming up to boats, per LiveScience.

What's surprising is that mother orcas typically look after newborn calves for at least two years, providing them with safety and nourishment. But ramming boats isn't necessarily the safest behavior.

"She went to the boats with this calf, so she preferred to stop the boats rather than keeping her baby safe," Mónica González, a marine biologist with the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals, said during a recent webinar.

This unusual behavior has led scientists to believe that "something bad happened" to White Gladis and that she's acting out of revenge because of the trauma she experienced, according to LiveScience.

"That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat," Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal who is a representative of the Atlantic Orca Working Group, told LiveScience in May.

Why White Gladis' behavior spread to other orcas

White Gladis may be the pioneer for her peers, but these interactions have become a bit of a fad for the local orca community.

The Atlantic Orca Working Group has reported a 298% rise in orca-boat interactions from 2020 to 2023, Forbes reported.

Researchers think the other orcas are imitating White Gladis, which wouldn't be uncommon for killer whales as they're highly intelligent and sociable animals.

Many orca experts that Insider has spoken to maintain that White Gladis' behavior isn't rooted in trauma or revenge. They think she's just having fun.

"They're pushing, pushing, pushing — boom! It's a game," the orca expert Renaud de Stephanis told the BBC.

Whatever the underlying cause for the orca's behavior, humans are starting to take action. For example, researchers plan to develop and test noise deterrents meant to scare orcas away from boats.

Experts fear the ultimate loser in this game of boats vs. orcas won't be expensive yachts — it'll be the orcas.

"I am worried that people will take the situation into their own hands and use lethal or harmful tactics to try and, you know, get the whales to stop or at least, you know, stop an attack at the moment," Deborah Giles, the science and research director at Wild Orca, told Vice.

Correction June 29, 2023 — An earlier version of the headline misstated the certainty of when White Gladis's pregnancy took place. She may have been pregnant when she started ramming boats.

Read the original article on Business Insider