A group of orcas caused significant damage to a sailing boat off the coast of southern Spain, according to reports from the local sea rescue service. The Mustique, a 20-metre British-flagged vessel, had its rudder broken and hull punctured after being rammed by the highly social apex predators while en route to Gibraltar. The incident follows a series of at least 20 interactions between orcas and small vessels this May alone, including one in which a yacht was completely submerged.
Guidelines from the Spanish Ministry of Transport say that ships that observe sudden changes in orca behavior should leave the area as quickly as possible and avoid disturbing the animals during maneuvers. Any interaction between a ship and an orca must be reported to the authorities, the ministry added. Killer whales, though called so, belong to the dolphin family. They can reach a length of up to eight metres and weigh up to six tons.
Research group GTOA tracks populations of the Iberian orca subspecies and noted 207 reported interactions in 2022. GTOA stated that the number of network interactions had risen dramatically and confirmed that dozens of orca attacks had been recorded off the coasts of Portugal and Spain this year.
The Spanish Sea Rescue Service used a rapid-response vessel and a helicopter with a bilge pump to help “Mustique” following the incident. The ship was towed to the port of Barbate in the province of Cadiz for repairs.
It is likely that this damage was caused by the same group of predators as those involved in other incidents. Orcas are at the top of the food chain in the ocean and are an essential part of the marine ecosystem, but their habits are still being studied. Interactions with humans are rare and almost always involve ships at sea. Regardless, scientists and rescue workers alike urge boaters to be cautious and exercise good judgment around these powerful predators.