Orcas Sink Yacht in Strait of Gibraltar, Marking Nearly 700 Attacks

A 15-meter sailing yacht was sunk by orcas in Moroccan waters in the Strait of Gibraltar, with two people rescued by a nearby oil tanker. This incident is the latest in a trend of nearly 700 orca attacks in the region since May 2020.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Orcas Sink Yacht in Strait of Gibraltar, Marking Nearly 700 Attacks

Orcas Sink Yacht in Strait of Gibraltar, Marking Nearly 700 Attacks

On May 12, 2024, a 15-meter sailing yacht carrying two people was sunk by orcas in Moroccan waters in the Strait of Gibraltar. The incident occurred at 9 a.m. local time, according to Spain's maritime rescue service. The passengers reported feeling sudden blows to the hull and rudder before water started seeping into the ship. They alerted rescue services, and a nearby oil tanker took them onboard, transporting them to Gibraltar. The yacht, named Alboran Cognac, was left adrift and eventually sank.

Why this matters: The increasing number of orca attacks in the Strait of Gibraltar raises concerns about the impact of human activities on marine ecosystems and the potential consequences for human safety. As researchers investigate the causes of this behavior, the findings could have broader implications for our understanding of marine conservation and the need for sustainable coexistence with wildlife.

This incident is the latest in a trend of orca attacks in the region, with nearly 700 interactions reported since May 2020, according to the research group GTOA. Experts believe the attacks involve a subpopulation of about 15 individuals, known as "Gladis", from the Iberian orca sub-species. Earlier this month, two attacks were reported, one of which sink, another off the coast of Spain. In July, a pod of orcas struck a sailboat off the coast of Portugal, and hours later targeted another vessel in the same area.

Skipper Werner Schaufelberger, who was attacked by orcas off the coast of Spain, described the experience: "At first, I thought we had hit something. But then I quickly realized that it was orcas attacking the ship." He added, "The attacks were brutal. There were two smaller and one larger orca. The two little ones shook the rudder while the big one kept running and then rammed the ship from the side with full force."

Researchers are still unsure about the causes of this behavior, with leading theories including playful manifestation of curiosity, a social fad, or intentional targeting of competitors for their favorite prey, the local bluefin tuna. Biologist Alfredo López Fernandez suspects that a single traumatized orca, named White Gladis, may be responsible for the attacks. He stated, "Defensive behavior based on trauma as the origin of all this gains more strength for us every day."

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are endangered and part of the dolphin family. They can measure up to eight meters and weigh up to six tonnes as adults. If you encounter an orca in the wild, guidelines recommend keeping a low profile on deck, not exciting the orcas, contacting authorities, securing yourself to something if the orcas ram your boat, and never entering the water when orcas are nearby.

The sinking of the Alboran Cognac sailing yacht by orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar marks a significant addition to the growing number of attacks in the region. With nearly 700 interactions reported since 2020, this incident highlights the need for further research to understand the complex behavior of these intelligent marine mammals. As scientists investigate potential causes, from curiosity to trauma, sailors are advised to exercise caution and follow guidelines when navigating waters frequented by orcas.

Key Takeaways

  • Orcas sank a 15-meter sailing yacht in Moroccan waters on May 12, 2024.
  • 700+ orca interactions reported in the Strait of Gibraltar since May 2020.
  • Experts suspect a subpopulation of 15 orcas, known as "Gladis", are responsible.
  • Causes of attacks unknown, but theories include curiosity, social fad, or trauma.
  • Sailors advised to exercise caution and follow guidelines when navigating orca-frequented waters.