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Orcas Claim Another Boat Off Gibraltar

The battle between Orcas and yachts off the coast of Gibraltar continues to rage.

Earlier this year, scientists and media descended upon the Strait of Gibraltar to understand why Orcas have developed a passion for attacking boats. Theories popped up immediately, including the notion that anti-fouling paint may be triggering the highly intelligent whales.

The problem with that theory, just like the others that have been proposed, is that if anti-fouling paint does entice an attack, no one can explain why it's a trigger.

Now with a year of data amidst the ongoing drama, scientists have determined that a single group of whales is likely responsible for the over 500 'interactions' off the coast of Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. But despite identifying the group, they're still no closer to finding the cause.

Most attacks occur in shallow water and involve small to midsize sailing yachts traveling at low speeds. The Orcas systematically attack the rudder, continually bumping the boat to spin it around or otherwise preventing it from escaping. In several cases, they have have succeeded in breaking the rudder off the boat or rendering the vessel inoperable. In a few cases, they have have sunk the boat outright.

What scientists have learned from this gradual progression in tactics is that the whales are teaching the skill to others. After disrupting a yacht race in Spain June, scientists identified individual whales now believed to be responsible for the bulk of the attacks. They've also determined that the ringleaders are passing their knowledge down to their offspring.

At the same time, sailors, commercial ship captains, and recreational boaters have been testing various methods to quell the attacks. Everything from maintaining a higher speed through the Strait, to blasting heavy metal music below the surface, has been attempted with varying degrees of success.

Now an attack off the coast of Morocco that claimed another yacht has put increased pressure on scientists and governments to solve the problem.

In the latest attack, Orcas encircled a charter sailboat called the Grazie Mamma for 45 minutes, ultimately damaging the rudder and causing a leak. The captain and crew, as well as tugboats from the Moroccan Navy, tried to tow the boat to shore, but it sank before reaching the port of Tanger Med, about an hour east of Tangiers.

The crew was unharmed, but it marks yet another downturn for the safety of wildlife and human travelers alike.

The question remaining is whether the Orcas are being playful, or seeking revenge for a perceived slight. Some experts believe the behavior may be rooted in an Orca having been injured by a passing boat, which in turn prompted it to become defensive around boats, and that hostility has spread to others. Other experts believe it may be playfulness that isn't intended to harm, but inadvertently damages boats. No humans have been injured in the attacks thus far.

Marine ecologist Robert Pitman told CBS News, “My personal opinion is that people do revenge, animals don’t do revenge."

“I think they are just playing around. They tried it once and turned it into a game. As it is with killer whales, things tend to spread among the group,” he told CBS.

“The matriarch is definitely in charge of the group. If she is in favor of it or will let it happen then it will and if she says no it will stop,” he added.

Until a solution is reached in the Strait, the internet has been filling the void with Orca memes -- a sarcastic take on the dilemma that, while not helping to find a truce, is helping to spread awareness about the situation. #news #culture

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David Holman
David Holman
Nov 23, 2023

At some point the problem needs to be eliminated. Maybe when a boat full of people become orca-derves.


Paint colour, is the common bottom paint colour with the attacks black or dark grey, could this colour make a sailboat look like a humpback or other type of whale these mammals hunt? I’ve sailed NW Spain to South Morocco without incident. My hull is a bright red colour. It would be worth asking all attacked boats to report the hull colour back. One thing that could be checked easily, if all are black or dark grey then maybe that is the problem, if all different colours are being attacked then look elsewhere for a solution. ❤️⛵️

Replying to

Re: antifoul colour - a lot of data has been collected on this covering the last 3 years, and there is no significant issue. All colours have been attacked and the proportion of each colour is more or less in line with the general mix of yacht hull colours.


Another badly researched article. The encounters are all around the Iberian Peninsular, started in May 2020 and are not in water shallower than 20 mtrs. CIRCE are the best local research group and are out daily off Barbate, incuding GPS tagging orcas. Check for all of the attack info and guidance. Those of us sailors based in the Bay of Cadiz allow for orcas every time we go out.

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