Killer whales have terrified crews taking part in a round-the-world boat race as their vessels approached the Strait of Gibraltar in the latest “attack” by the ocean giants. Two boats racing in The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint were bumped by orcas in the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Gibraltar on Thursday.
Crew members from Team JAJO and Mirpuri Trifork Racing both reported being approached by killer whales with teams telling race control there were no injuries or damage to their boats.
This is despite the orcas ramming into at least one of the boats and biting at the rudders, according to the event’s official website.
Team JAJO skipper Jelmer van Beek told The Ocean Race: “Three orcas came straight at us and started hitting the rudders.
“Impressive to see the orcas – beautiful animals – but also a dangerous moment for us as a team.”
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Mr van Beek said crew members took down the sails and slowed down the boat as quickly as possible in response.
He added: “Luckily, after a few attacks they went away. This was a scary moment.”
The seas surrounding Gibraltar are becoming notorious for so-called orca attacks on boats where an individual or pod of killer whales repeatedly ram into a boat’s hull or rudders.
A killer whale named White Gladis has been blamed for teaching younger orcas how to attack boats in some cases.
Recent months have seen vessels suffer significant damage with at least three boats attacked to the point of sinking.
Orcas in the region began harassing boats in 2020, according to Scientific American.
Alfredo López, an orca researcher at the Atlantic Orca Working Group (GTOA) which monitors the Iberian killer whale population, said almost 20 percent of the attacks caused enough damage to disable the vessels.
Mr López advanced two theories to explain why the whales are behaving in this way.
One is that the orca have invented a new fad or game, something subpopulations of these mammals have been observed doing in the past.
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Mr López said orca fads are often spearheaded by juveniles, but alternatively, the attacks may be a response to a bad experience involving a boat.
There have been more than 500 incidents of orca approaching boats in the Strait of Gibraltar, which is a busy shipping lane.
The GTOA expert added that only a fraction of those approaches had included contact between a vessel and an orca.
A majority of the attacks were on sailboats or catamarans with only a few involving fishing boats and motorboats, according to Scientific American.
Physical attacks usually see orca biting at a vessel’s rudder, snapping it off and rendering crews unable to manoeuvre their boat.
In July, killer whales sank a sailboat with five people onboard.
They caused a sailboat carrying four to go down in November and in an attack last month Swiss sailing yacht Champagne had to be abandoned after an encounter.
The vessel sank as it was towed to shore. People onboard the three boats were rescued safely.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.
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