Scientists have been left baffled by incidents of orcas ramming sailing boats along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts.
In the last two months, from southern to northern Spain, sailors have sent distress calls after worrying encounters. Two boats lost part of their rudders, at least one crew member suffered bruising from the impact of the ramming, and several boats sustained serious damage.
The latest incident occurred on Friday afternoon just off A Coruña, on the northern coast of Spain. Halcyon Yachts was taking a 36-ft boat to the UK when an orca rammed its stern at least 15 times, according to Pete Green, the company’s managing director. The boat lost steering and was towed into port to assess damage.
Around the same time there were radio warnings of orca sightings 70 miles south, at Vigo, near the site of at least two recent collisions. On 30 August, a French-flagged vessel radioed the coastguard to say it was “under attack” from killer whales. Later that day, a Spanish naval yacht, Mirfak, lost part of its rudder after an encounter with orcas under the stern.
In one instance, a 46-foot delivery boat was surrounded by nine orcas off Cape Trafalgar in Spain. The whales, that can weight up to six tons, rammed the boat continuously for one hour, causing it to spin 180 degrees and the engine to shut down, according to crew member Victoria Morris.
Morris told the Observer that the attack, which happened on July 28, felt "totally orchestrated."
"The noise was really scary. They were ramming the keel, there was this horrible echo, I thought they could capsize the boat," Morris said. "And this deafening noise as they communicated, whistling to each other. It was so loud that we had to shout."
The orca pod had left by the time help arrived, but the boat still had to be towed to a nearby town called Barbate. Crew members later found the rudder missing its bottom layers and teeth marks along the underside of the ship.
Most likely this has all been done by one pod, but what if the rebellion spreads?