Dozens of incidents involving groups of killer whales and boats have been reported off the coasts of Spain and Portugal so far this year.
Killer whales have seriously damaged a sailboat off the coast of southern Spain, the local maritime rescue service said, adding to dozens of orca attacks on ships recorded offshore so far this year. Spanish and Portuguese coasts.
The incident follows at least 20 interactions this month alone in the Strait of Gibraltar between small vessels and killer whales, according to the Atlantic Orca Working Group-GTOA, which tracks populations of the Iberian subspecies of killer whales. killer whale.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, a group of orcas broke the rudder and pierced the hull after ramming the Mustique as it sailed towards Gibraltar, prompting the yacht’s crew of four to contact Spanish authorities for help. help, a Maritime Rescue spokesperson told the service.
The salvage service deployed a fast-response vessel and a helicopter carrying a bilge pump to assist the 20-metre (66ft) vessel, which was sailing under the British flag, the spokesman said.
The Mustique was towed to the port of Barbate, in the Spanish province of Cadiz, for repairs.
The incident follows at least 20 interactions this month alone in the Strait of Gibraltar between small vessels and the highly social apex predators. In 2022, 207 interactions were reported, according to GTOA data.
Yesterday two ships interacted, one north of Tangier, under tow, and the other south of Barbate. But at this moment a third ship enters the area and seems to have difficulties. View maps and traffic lights in the app (GT Orcas) and on the web https://t.co/GUq8icOtkX
—Orca Iberica GTOA (@Orca_Iberica) May 24, 2023
Although known as killer whales, endangered orcas are part of the dolphin family. They can measure up to 8 meters (26 feet) and weigh up to six tons when fully grown.
Earlier this month, the sailing ship Alboran Champagne suffered a similar impact from three killer whales half a nautical mile (less than 1 km) off Barbate. The vessel could not be towed as it was completely swamped and left adrift to sink.
A study published in 2021 on the interactions of orcas with ships in the Strait of Gibraltar said that several orcas began to show disruptive behavior towards boats in 2020 – most were sailboats but also involved fishing boats and ships. motor boats.
“The animals bumped, pushed and turned the boats,” the report said, noting that 14 orcas, mostly juveniles, were identified as engaging in such behavior.
“The behavior of killer whales when interacting with boats is not identified as aggressive,” the report said.
“We don’t yet know what the origin of these interactions is, but it is still suspected that it could be curious and playful behavior, which could be self-induced, or conversely behavior induced by an aversive behavior incident and therefore a precautionary behavior,” the report states.
Guidelines issued by the Spanish Ministry of Transport state that whenever vessels observe any alteration in orca behavior – such as sudden changes in direction or speed – they should leave the area as soon as possible and avoid further disturbance to the animals during the maneuvers.
Every interaction between a vessel and an orca must be reported to authorities, the ministry added.