Home World Orca attacks begin again as yacht sank off Gibraltar

Orca attacks begin again as yacht sank off Gibraltar


In the latest of a series of incidents in which a group of orcas ram vessels off the coast of Gibraltar, a 15-metre yacht carrying two people has sunk.

An unknown number, assumed to be part of the subpopulation collectively known as “Gladys” rammed the Alborán Cognac at 9am on Sunday, according to Spain’s maritime rescue service.

The sailors explained they felt sudden blows to the hull and rudder before starting to take on water. 

A nearby oil tanker took them on board and transported them to Gibraltar, but the yacht could not be saved; it eventually sank. 

This is not the first time such an incident has been reported. In fact, it adds to the almost 700 interactions in the Moroccan waters and off the coast of Portugal and northwest Spain since it was first reported in May 2020, said GT Atlantic Orca.

Some vessels ended up with teeth marks, others rammed so hard they left head indents. Seven vessels have reported to have been sunk, including the latest incident – five sail and two fishing boats – since May 2020. 

Experts believe the group of about 15 individuals to belong to a population of 37 living in the area, which has been named “Gladys” after the matriarch. Orcas – also known as killer whales – are the largest member of the dolphin family and are highly intelligent, social mammals. Each population has its own culture and hunting techniques.

So why has Gladys started this? Such actions have never been recorded before, not even during the industrial whaling days. Experts have several theories, including it being a social fad, a playful manifestation of curiosity and that this is an intentional targeting of what the orca believes to be competitors for their main food source, bluefin tuna. 

However, scientists have warned that the orcas are not attacking. Such a fake narrative is putting the species at risk of retribution from humans, one that is already critically endangered. For example, in August 2023, video footage showed a sailor shooting at a pod.

In an open letter last summer, 30 maritime scientists said: “We urge the media and public to avoid projecting narratives on to these animals. In the absence of further evidence, people should not assume they understand the animals’ motivations,” also saying wildlife should not be punished for exhibiting unusual behaviour.

The open letter continued: “When we are at sea, we are in the realm of marine life. We should not punish wildlife for being wild. We need to keep cool heads when wild animals exhibit novel behaviour and we must put greater effort into adapting our own actions and behaviour to the presence of wildlife.”

Danny Groves from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation said: “Since the release of the film Jaws, we have seen what a negative rep can do for marine creatures like sharks. 

“…[Orcas] have never killed one of us in the wild. They have only been known to harm humans in captivity, and that is because we have been stupid enough to push them to breaking point by keeping them trapped for years in small concrete tanks for our entertainment.”

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