Dozens of incidents involving groups of orcas and boats have been reported off the Spanish and Portuguese coasts so far this year.
Killer whales severely damaged a sailing boat off the coast of southern Spain, the local marine rescue service said, adding to dozens of attacks by orcas on ships recorded so far this year off the 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-GTOA working group, which tracks subspecies populations of Iberian orcas.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, a pod of orcas breached the rudder and breached the hull after colliding with the Mustique as it sailed to Gibraltar, prompting the boat’s four-man crew to contact Spanish authorities for help, a Maritime Rescue spokesperson said. Service said.
The spokesman said the rescue service had deployed a rapid response vessel and a helicopter carrying a bilge pump to assist the 20-metre vessel, which was sailing under the flag of the United Kingdom.
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 social apex predators. GTOA data showed that in 2022, there were 207 reported interactions.
Yesterday two ships interacted, one north of Tangier cut off and the other south of Barbati. But at this moment a third ship enters the area and seems to be having difficulties. Consult 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 they are known as killer whales, endangered orcas are part of the dolphin family. They can measure up to 8 meters (26 ft) long and weigh up to six tons as adults.
Earlier this month, the sailing yacht Alboran Champagne suffered a similar impact from three orcas half a nautical mile (less than a kilometer) off Parbati. The ship could not be towed as it was completely flooded and left adrift to sink.
A study published in 2021 of orca interactions with ships in the Strait of Gibraltar reported that several orcas began to display disruptive behavior towards boats in 2020 – most of which were sailing vessels but also included fishing boats and motorboats.
“Animals crash into, push and overturn boats,” the report stated, noting that 14 orcas, mostly juveniles, have been identified to engage in such behaviour.
The report states that “the behavior of orcas when interacting with boats has not been identified as aggressive behaviour.”
“We are not yet sure of the origin of these interactions, but there is still a suspicion that they may be a curious and pleasurable behavior, which could be self-inflicted, or on the other hand it could be a behavior triggered by an aversive incident, and therefore a precautionary behavior,” it says. in the report.
Guidance from the Spanish Ministry of Transport states that when ships notice any change in the behavior of orcas – such as sudden changes in direction or speed – they should leave the area as soon as possible and avoid further disturbing the animals during maneuvers.
The ministry added that every interaction between a ship and an Orca must be reported to the authorities.
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