Orcas, aka killer whales, have attacked several boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal in the past few months, and marine scientists are trying to figure out why.
The black and white orcas, the largest in the dolphin family, are high intelligent social animals. They’re also very powerful; an adult male can grow to be 26 feet long and weigh 10,000 pounds. They often play in the bow waves of boats. But in the past two months several captains of boats off Spain and Portugal have issued distress calls after orcas have damaged their vessels.
One attack, off Cape Trafalgar in Spain, seemed “totally orchestrated,” Victoria Morris told The Observer. She was sailing as crew on a 46-foot delivery boat when she said that nine orcas surrounded the boat and started ramming the keel. “I thought they could capsize the boat,” she said. “And this deafening noise as they communicated, whistling to each other. It was so loud that we had to shout.” The boat eventually had to be towed to port; the rudder was broken and there were bite marks on the hull.
A few days later, Nick Giles was motor sailing his 34-foot Moody off Northern Spain when he said he heard a sound “like a sledgehammer” and saw his wheel turn “with incredible force.” He said his boat “lifted up half a foot and I was pushed by a second whale from behind.” Giles started working on his steering cables when another orca hit, “nearly chopping off my finger in the mechanism.”
And Pete Green, the head of Halcyon Yachts, told The Guardian that orcas rammed his 46-foot boat at least 15 times off northern Spain. The boat eventually lost steering and had to be towed into port.
Marine scientists are baffled by the attacks, and say they may be signs of stress. Orcas near the crowded and noisy Strait of Gibraltar may become disoriented or more aggressive as they think they have to compete with fishing boats for food. Read more: