'Crazy' killer whales attack boats off Spain and Portugal

Elias Hubbard
September 15, 2020

Researchers are perplexed over a group of killer whales that has been attacking boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal in the last few months.

A group of killer whales appear to have targeted sailboats traveling along the Strait of Gibraltar to Galicia in multiple incidents over the last two months, damaging boats and injuring sailors.

The orca pod had left by the time help arrived, but the boat still had to be towed to a nearby town called Barbate. One crew member has also been left with bruises because of the ramming.

In the most recent incident, Halcyon Yachts were taking a 36ft vessel to the United Kingdom from A Coruña in northern Spain when a killer whale rammed it at least 15 times.

"For killer whales to take out a piece of a fibreglass rudder is insane", RocÃo Espada, who works with the marine biology laboratory at the University of Seville and has observed this population of orcas in the Gibraltar Strait for years, told The Observer.

The vessel lost steering and had to be towed back to port because of the attack.

There have been orca sightings slightly further south, near Vigo, where there have been at least two recent collisions between boats and orcas.

At the end of August, a French boat radioed to the coastguard to say it was "under attack". A Spanish boat called Mirfak was one of those that lost rudders to the freakish attacks, as can be seen in the clip above.

So, why would they be doing this? "It is unnatural, however, for them to become aggressive, and experts told The Observer it was unlikely â€" though not impossible â€" that the orcas were mounting deliberate attacks.

They work together, often with team tactics aimed at catching food, but this seems out of character.

The Spanish maritime authorities have warned boats to keep their distance from killer whales but some sailors claim that the animals chase boats passing through the area. "They [the whales] were ramming the keel, there was this terrible echo, I thought they could capsize the boat", Morris told the Guardian.

According to the Guardian, scientists are baffled about what could be causing this sudden wave of aggression, calling it "highly unusual" and "concerning".

The scientists have also said it is unlikely that more than one pod is acting in this manner.

A crew member of a 46-foot delivery boat described being surrounded by nine orcas that rammed the boat for an hour, causing it to spin 180 degrees and the engine to shut down.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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