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Deadliest Catch S19: The Northwestern's Orca Encounter Could Have Been Much Scarier

On Discovery's "Deadliest Catch," moods can sour or brighten at the drop of a hat. A good day on the water is most often defined by a bountiful catch, but a well-timed prank or pleasant weather can boost morale as well.

For the S/V Northwestern's co-captain Mandy Hansen, seeing a wild orca in the choppy waters of the North Pacific was thrilling and fortuitous. In Episode 8 of the ongoing 19th season, a huge orca swam alongside the Northwestern, delighting everyone on the ship. "I'm going to take it as good luck," Mandy said. "I mean, that just made my childhood dream come true." A crew member concurred, responding, "That's definitely good luck."

Even Mandy's dad, the long-running cast member Sig Hansen, took the orca sighting as a good sign. "We've gotta stick around," he said of the murky patch of open ocean. "There's a sign of life."

The Northwestern's orca sighting may have been awe-inspiring, but other ships haven't been so lucky. Since 2020, orcas -– particularly those in the waters around the Iberian Peninsula — have taken to a strange, uncharacteristically aggressive new hobby of ramming into boats. The orcas seem to specifically be after the rudders, which, when broken, open up a hole, causing the water to sink.

Destructive orca behavior is on the rise

Orcas' fascination with ramming boats is a seemingly new phenomenon. CEMMA, a Galician NGO that researches marine life, recorded 52 interactions between the two-toned whales and ships in 2020. By 2022, that number had skyrocketed to 207, with the animals spreading to the seas of France and Morocco.

"The orcas are not showing an aggressive attitude in all of this, even though they may break something," orca researcher Alfredo López Fernández told the BBC. "We know that it's a complex behavior that has nothing to do with aggression (they don't want to eat anyone, nor harm humans) nor revenge (orcas are not resentful)."

Still, scientists aren't quite sure what's causing the uptick in the orcas' destructive behavior. Some posit that pushing the rudders is a trending game among the animals. Another hypothesis claims that the orcas are responding to trauma, perhaps going after ships following negative experiences getting tangled in fishing lines.

Like any strange international incident, the orcas have sparked a wave of memes — especially since the animals have targeted a number of yachts. "They're beginning to orcanize," quipped George Takei on Twitter.

Luckily, the orcas' ship-sinking game hasn't made it to the Bering Sea, or "Deadliest Catch." In one Season 18 episode, an orca actually led the Cornelia Marie to a rich haul. Still, the orcas could turn on the "Deadliest Catch" vessels at any time. If they don't bash up the ships, they might go after the catch themselves.