Orca Attacks on Sailboats Leave Scientists Baffled
Yachtsmen have a new and rare danger to confront off the coast of Spain: orca attacks. According to Spain's maritime search and rescue agency, Salvamento Maritimo, multiple sailing yachts have been damaged or disabled by aggresive orcas ramming their hulls.
One of the vessels, the Urki 1, captured video footage of an attack off A Coruña, Galicia in the early hours of September 14. The incident left the yacht with a damaged rudder, and she was forced to request a tow from the rescue vessel LS Langostiera, which brought her into the port of Cedeira for repairs.
Velero Urki I informó a las 3.07h que estaba siendo atacado por un grupo de orcas; le rompieron el timón y solicitó remolque. Procedía de Finisterre con destino a Gijón con 2 tripulantes españoles. Se movilizó la LS Langosteira de #CruzRoja que lo remolcó hasta Cedeira pic.twitter.com/2lKKQMOQd5— SALVAMENTO MARÍTIMO (@salvamentogob) September 14, 2020
A second sailboat, the French-crewed Amadeus, was attacked and disabled in the same region on the same night. Once again, LS Langostiera deployed to tow her into Cedeira.
On September 11, the yacht Beautiful Dreamer was struck by orcas more than a dozen times just north of A Coruña. On August 30, the Spanish Navy's racing boat Mirfak was attacked off Vigo, about 90 miles to the southwest.
In total, more than a dozen similar attacks have been catalogued by Spanish authorities at locations between Gibraltar and Galicia. The orcas' motives are unclear, but the attacks could simply be play behavior - less playful for the yachts' crewmembers, perhaps, but possibly entertaining for killer whales.
The incidents are exceptionally rare, marine biologists say, and no fatal orca attack in the wild has ever been reported - a noteworthy statistic given killer whales' ability to catch prey far larger than people. Human harassment of marine mammals is far more common, including in Spanish waters: On September 14, authorities in Catalonia announced an investigation into an incident in which a group of 20 pleasure boats engaged in potentially illegal harassment of protected fin whales, approaching much closer than the legally mandated 200-foot standoff distance.