In a perplexing series of events, a group of orcas, also known as killer whales, orchestrated a dramatic yacht sinking off the Moroccan coast, leaving behind a trail of baffling behavior. The incident, which unfolded on October 31, brought into focus the mounting concerns surrounding killer whale interactions with seafaring vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar.
Last week, a Polish tour company, Morskie Mile, recounted a chilling encounter as one of their yachts fell victim to an extended attack by a pod of orcas. The narrow Strait of Gibraltar, a gateway connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, served as the backdrop for this unexpected confrontation. The orcas relentlessly assaulted the yacht for 45 minutes, causing substantial damage and leading to its irrevocable submersion.
Despite the crew’s efforts, backed by a search-and-rescue team and the Moroccan Navy, the yacht succumbed to its watery fate near the entrance to the Tanger-Med port complex, located northeast of Tangier. Fortunately, all crew members remained unharmed, having safely reached Spain when Morskie Mile posted the incident on Facebook. The tour agency mourned the loss of the beloved vessel, emphasizing the lasting friendships formed during their maritime adventures. They assured their clients that upcoming cruises in the Canary Islands would proceed as planned.
This unsettling incident is not an isolated case. Reports of killer whale attacks that appear to be aimed at capsizing boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal have seen a dramatic increase over the past two years. Data from the research group GTOA, specializing in orcas around Gibraltar, revealed that such interactions more than tripled during this period.
The motivations behind these unusual behaviors remain shrouded in mystery. Andrew W. Trites, Professor and Director of Marine Mammal Research at the University of British Columbia, acknowledges the puzzling nature of these incidents. He commented, “Nobody knows why this is happening. It is a total mystery, unprecedented.”
GTOA documented 52 maritime encounters with orcas in the region between the Strait of Gibraltar and Galicia, Spain, from July to November 2020. Subsequently, the interactions surged, with 197 recorded in 2021 and 207 in 2022, with sailboats primarily affected. In June of the same year, during an international race around the world called The Ocean Race, sailing teams reported unnerving encounters with orcas in the Atlantic Ocean west of Gibraltar. While the orcas did not harm the crews or damage their boats, they displayed aggressive behavior, including pushing against and ramming the vessels and biting the rudders.
The maritime world is left grappling with a baffling enigma as orcas continue to exhibit unprecedented and mystifying conduct in the waters around the Strait of Gibraltar.