Orcas attack ships in Spanish and Portuguese waters in a bewildering behavior that is starting to repeat itself

FILE PHOTO. It was the most recent episode of a puzzling trend in the behavior of orcas (REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian/File Photo) (Enrique Marcarian/)

A group of killer whales repeatedly rammed a yacht in the Strait of Gibraltar this week, causing so much damage that Spanish lifeguards had to come to the aid of its four crew members.

It was the latest episode of a bewildering Orca behavior trend that inhabit the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, which has forced researchers to search for a cause.

The Spanish Maritime Rescue Service stated that orcas repeatedly crashed into the Mustique, a 65-foot (20-meter) vessel sailing under the British flag late on Wednesday, disabling its rudder and cracking its hull. Spanish rescuers had to pump out the water from the sea before towing it to safety.

The alert reached the Spanish service through their British counterparts, who had relayed the distress call, the Spanish service reported. A rescue helicopter and boat were deployed to help the disabled vessel dock in Barbate.

Its about 24th such incident registered by the service this year. The service did not provide data for last year.

An orca swims next to a boat in the Strait of Gibraltar (@ april_georgina/via REUTERS)
An orca swims next to a boat in the Strait of Gibraltar (@ april_georgina/via REUTERS) (APRIL BOYES/INSTAGRAM @ APRIL_GE/)

But the Atlantic Orcas Working Group, a team of Spanish and Portuguese marine life researchers studying orcas near the Iberian Peninsula, claimed these incidents were recorded for the first time three years ago. In 2020, the group recorded 52 such incidents, some of which resulted in damaged rudders. The number increased to 197 in 2021 and to 207 in 2022.

The orcas appear to be attacking vessels in a wide arc covering the western coast of the Iberian peninsula, from the waters near the Strait of Gibraltar to Galicia in northwestern Spain.

According to the group, these killer whales are a small group of about 35 whales They spend most of the year near the Iberian coast chasing bluefin tuna. The so-called Iberian killer whales have an average length of five to 6.5 meters (16-21 feet), compared to Antarctic killer whales, which can reach nine meters (29.5 feet).

No attacks on swimmers have been recorded. Ship interactions seem to cease once the ship is immobilized.

(With information from AP)

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