Killer whales attack and sink couple's yacht, in latest in series of orca ramming attacks that are puzzling experts

15 May 2024, 08:53 | Updated: 15 May 2024, 09:49

Family of killer whales (Orcinus orca) off Tarifa coast, Strait of Gibraltar, Costa de la Luz, Andalucia (Andalusia), Spain
Family of killer whales (Orcinus orca) off Tarifa coast, Strait of Gibraltar, Costa de la Luz, Andalucia (Andalusia), Spain. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

A group of killer whales rammed a couple's yacht off the coast of Morocco, sinking the boat and leaving them needing to be rescued.

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The couple were sailing in the Strait of Gibraltar on Sunday morning when the orcas smashed a hole in the boat's hull and broke the rudder.

They were forced to issue an emergency call, and rescuers sent out a helicopter to pick them up from their position about 14 miles off Morocco’s Cap Spartel.

Eventually, they were picked up by an oil tanker about an hour after the attack. Their 15-metre yacht sank.

Read more: 'Vengeful' killer whale called Gladis trains gangs of orcas to attack ships in the Strait of Gibraltar

Read more: TV presenter Simon Reeve 'left with huge scar’ after run-in with whale shark the ‘size of a bus’ while filming

Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) swimming in the strait of Gibraltar
Orcas in the Straits of Gibraltar. Picture: Alamy

The ramming incident is the latest in a series of summer attacks by orcas in the seas on the west coast of Spain and Portugal.

Some 202 attacks took place in 2022, along with 197 in 2021.

The assaults cover a wide arc from the waters near the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain's north-western Galicia.

The attacks on boats seem to stop once the vessel becomes immobilised, and no reports have been made of swimmers being targeted.

Orcas even disrupted a sailing race last year, when a boat sailing from the Netherlands to Italy had a 15-minute encounter with the animals, prompting the crew to drop their craft's sails and raise a clatter to fend them off.

It is unclear why the orca attacks are taking place. Researchers suggested last year that they were being taught to attack by an orca called White Gladis.

Orcas in the Straits of Gibraltar
Orcas in the Straits of Gibraltar. Picture: Alamy

Following the latest attack, Spanish authorities have recommended that small boats stick to the coastline in the Strait of Gibraltar region between May and August, to avoid meeting any killer whales.

The orcas off the Iberian coast average from five to six-and-a-half metres (16-21ft) in length, compared with orcas in Antarctica that reach nine metres (29-and-a-half feet).

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