Orcas sink yet another yacht in the Strait of Gibraltar

Click to play video: 'Orcas strike again: Yacht sinks in the Strait of Gibraltar'
Orcas strike again: Yacht sinks in the Strait of Gibraltar
Watch: Orcas strike again: Yacht sinks in the Strait of Gibraltar – May 15, 2024

A pod of orcas rammed another yacht sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar until it began taking on water and sank.

This latest incident is just one of nearly 700 interactions between orcas and boats around the Iberian peninsula since 2020, when researchers took notice of this troubling trend.

Last year there was a litany of headlines about orcas sinking ships, spawning theories about how the apex predators could be exacting revenge against humans or teaching their young how to hunt by toying with ships. No one knows for sure why there has been an uptick in orcas ramming boats. The incidents are mostly localized around Spain and Portugal, where a subspecies called the Iberian Orca makes its home.

Click to play video: 'Cases of orcas attacking boats on the rise'
Cases of orcas attacking boats on the rise

Sunday’s incident occurred in Moroccan waters in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain’s maritime rescue service told Reuters, where an unknown number of orcas began ramming a small, 15-metre sailing yacht around 9 a.m. local time.

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Two people were onboard the vessel, called the Alboran Cognac, and they radioed for help. The unnamed boaters reported feeling sudden blows to the hull and rudder of the ship before their vessel started taking on water.

A nearby oil tanker redirected to their location, picked up the two boaters and transported them to Gibraltar. The Alboran Cognac was left adrift and eventually sank, Reuters reports.

The Atlantic Orca Working Group, also called GTOA, which researches Iberian orca populations, said scientists began noticing “disruptive” behaviour emerging in 2020, characterized by mostly juvenile orcas pushing sailboats with their noses, turning boats around.

Fifty-two interactions between orcas and boats were recorded in 2020, but since then, the number of interactions has climbed each year. In 2022, there were 207 incidents.

About 50 per cent of the time, these interactions end in some kind of damage to the boat, usually to the rudder.

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According to the GTOA, orcas know what rudders are, and they aren’t confusing these steering mechanisms for prey.

“Orcas don’t confuse the rudder with anything, they know what it is, how it moves and what effect it has when touching it. The speed of the ship and the resistance of the rudder cause it to persist in action,” researchers write.

If an orca starts interacting with your boat, the GTOA recommends stopping the ship and its engine and letting go of the rudder. This can cause the orcas to “drop their interest, ceasing the interaction, in most cases.”

Certainly don’t try to fight back against these massive aquatic animals, especially given that the open sea is their natural habitat and not ours.

“Orcas can be stimulated by human actions to interact with the boat, so please try to stay out of their sight and do not shout, try to hit them, touch them or throw things at them,” researchers write. In cases where boaters fight back, or try to swat the orcas with their rudder, damage to the boat tends to be greater.

As of now, there’s no evidence that the Iberian orcas are displaying “aggressive intent” in their behaviour. After all, they are simply “living in their own environment, where we are the intruders.”

While most of these orca incidents have occurred around Spain and Portugal, a number of rammings have also taken place in northern waters, off the coast of the U.K. and Ireland.

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