Killer whales attack a sailing boat off the coast of Morocco. —Stephen Bidwell / SWNS

In the most recent incident of orca aggression off the coast of Spain, a group of killer whales caused severe damage to a sailing boat. The local maritime rescue service reported that the attack took place near the southern coast of Spain, adding to the growing number of orca attacks on vessels in Spanish and Portuguese waters this year.

During the early hours of Thursday, the orcas targeted the Mustique, a 20-meter sailing boat sailing under a British flag en route to Gibraltar. The group of orcas rammed into the boat, breaking the rudder and piercing the hull. The crew of four immediately contacted Spanish authorities for assistance. The maritime rescue service quickly deployed a response vessel and a helicopter carrying a bilge pump to aid the damaged boat. The Mustique was eventually towed to the port of Barbate in the province of Cadiz for repairs.

According to the research group GTOA, which monitors the Iberian orca sub-species, this incident is one of at least 20 interactions documented this month alone between small vessels and these highly social apex predators in the Strait of Gibraltar. In 2022, there were a total of 207 reported interactions with orcas in the same area.

In a previous incident in May, the sailing yacht Alboran Champagne also suffered a similar attack by three orcas near Barbate. However, due to the extent of the damage and flooding, the ship could not be salvaged and sank.

Researchers believe White Gladis, pictured, is now teaching other whales to attack yachts. —Grupo de trabajo Orca Atlántica
Researchers believe White Gladis, pictured, is now teaching other whales to attack yachts. —Grupo de trabajo Orca Atlántica

Guidelines issued by the Spanish Transport Ministry state that whenever ships encounter any unusual behaviour from orcas, such as sudden changes in direction or speed, they should immediately leave the area and avoid further disturbing the animals. It is also mandatory to report any interactions between ships and orcas to the authorities.

Despite being commonly referred to as killer whales, these orcas are actually members of the dolphin family. As adults, they can reach lengths of up to eight meters and weigh up to six tonnes. However, their population is endangered, highlighting the need for conservation efforts to protect these majestic creatures.

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