A group of orcas have sunk a yacht after an attack in the Strait of Gibraltar.
The 40-foot yacht belonging to Polish tour company Morskie Mile had been sailing in the Strait of Gibraltar on October 31 when a pod of orcas surrounded it.
The orcas proceeded to ram into the steering fin of the boat for 45 minutes, “causing major damage and leakage,” the tour operator said in a statement posted to Facebook.
The crew, with assistance from the Moroccan Navy, attempted to steer the vessel away from the animals, and bring it into port; however it sank near the entrance of Tanger Med, in Morocco.
The crew were unharmed in the incident, but the tour company expressed sadness at the loss of the boat.
“This yacht was the most wonderful thing in maritime sailing for all of us,” a statement from the tour operator said. “Longtime friendships formed on board. We sailed on this yacht around the most beautiful places in Europe and the Atlantic archipelagos, trained numerous sea stewards, discovered the beautiful and the unknown, tasted Mediterranean specialties and sailed, sailed, sailing. Very good memories will be transferred to Grazie Mamma II. Love of the sea always wins and friendships remain with us.”
This is not an isolated incident, as orcas have been interfering with boats in this stretch of ocean for years. Recently, however, such incidents have become more intense.
The interactions have been an issue since 2020 in waters off Spain, Portugal and Morocco. They vary from orcas merely inspecting boats to attacking them.
Although they are not usually aggressive towards humans, orcas are huge and strong, meaning these interactions can result in severe damage to boats. The exact reason for their behavior is unknown, but scientists have several theories.
Orcas are incredibly intelligent, socially complex animals, and sometimes display evidence of adopting learned behaviors from senior members of a pod.
Some theories have surrounded one particular orca who lives in the Strait of Gibraltar, known as White Gladis.
White Gladis and her pod have been ramming boats in the area for the past few years. In 2020, researchers with the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals said they were behind 61 percent of the attacks.
There are indications that orca are learning this behavior, and passing it down to one another.
David Lusseau, professor of marine sustainability at the Technical University of Denmark, previously told Newsweek that he doesn’t believe the attacks result from aggression.
“I am sorry to say that if a killer whale (even more so with a group of killer whales) had aggressive intentions, most interactions would not end well, at all, regardless of the actions of the skippers,” he said.
“So, it is my opinion that this is not aggressive behavior, and definitely not planned behavior with more complex motivations, such as revenge. Vessels are objects in the environment of these killer whales.”
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This article by Robyn White was first published by Newsweek on 6 November 2023. Lead Image: A stock photo shows an orca. A group of orcas have attacked and sunk a boat off the coast of Morocco. SLOWMOTIONGLI/GETTY.