Killer whales attacking and sink another yacht in the Straits of Gibraltar

A sailing yacht in the Strait of Gibraltar was sunk on Sunday when it was struck by an unknown number of orcas, causing a water leak. Fortunately, both crew members on board were rescued by a passing oil tanker, according to officials from Spain’s maritime rescue service. This incident adds to a series of killer whale attacks on boats in recent years.

The incident took place around 9 a.m. local time in the narrow strait between Spain and Morocco, which has gained a reputation for human encounters with killer whale pods. These whales, for reasons that are not yet fully understood, have been known to ram into boats and, in some cases, even cause them to sink. In this particular instance, the crew members aboard the SV Alboran Cognac yacht found themselves in a dangerous situation approximately 14 miles off the coast of Cape Spartel, prompting them to issue an emergency call for evacuation.

According to the rescue service, the crew members experienced impacts on the yacht’s hull and rudder, which were damaged by the whales. To assist with their evacuation, the coordination center in Tarifa, located on the Spanish side of the Strait of Gibraltar, facilitated their transfer onto the tanker MT Lascaux. Within an hour, the tanker successfully retrieved the crew members from the sinking yacht, and they safely disembarked in Gibraltar by 10:30 a.m. Unfortunately, the SV Alboran Cognac was left behind and eventually vanished into the ocean.

If you’re sailing through the waters of the Gulf of Cádiz in southern Spain or the Strait of Gibraltar, whether on a larger motorized vessel or a personal sailing boat, it’s important to steer clear of specific areas marked as potential danger zones for orca interactions by the maritime rescue service. These areas pose the greatest risks between May and August, as this is when pods of killer whales are frequently spotted in the Atlantic.

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In the past, there have been incidents that indicate the potential dangers of encounters with orcas. For instance, a Polish boat touring company experienced a distressing incident last October when a pod of orcas repeatedly pounded into the steering fin of one of their yachts, causing it to leak and eventually sink. The aggressive behavior lasted for a staggering 45 minutes. Additionally, in June of the previous year, two sailing teams participating in an international race around the world shared alarming accounts of multiple orcas ramming into or pushing up against their boats as they sailed west of Gibraltar. These incidents serve as a reminder that the risks associated with orcas can arise unexpectedly.

Researchers and sailors are currently investigating the reason behind the increase in confrontational behavior observed in recent encounters between boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal. Although no injuries have been reported, it is concerning that some individuals have intentionally attempted to sink or capsize several vessels.

In an attempt to ward off the apex predators, some sailors have resorted to playing loud thrash metal music.

According to the research group GTOA, the number of reports of orcas interacting with humans has more than tripled in the past two years. Since 2020, the group has documented hundreds of such incidents in the region. However, recent data suggests a possible change in orcas’ behavior, with only 26 interactions reported in the Strait of Gibraltar and Bay of Biscay areas between January and May of this year. This number is 65% lower compared to the same months last year and 40% lower than the average number of interactions recorded between 2021 and 2023, according to GTOA.

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