NUMEROUS orca interactions, ranging in severity, are reported monthly along the coast of Spain, with nearly 20 incidents occurring off the northwestern coast since mid-August.
Occasionally, these encounters are dramatic but non-threatening, but in some cases, they lead to actual harm, as was the case in a recent incident involving the German-flagged sailboat “Meu” near Cape Touriñán.
While “Meu” was sailing approximately four miles off Cape Touriñán, the 16-metre yacht came across a pod of orcas.
In line with typical orca behaviour in the region, these killer whales struck the boat’s rudder during the encounter. However, on this occasion, the orcas also exhibited an uncommon interest in targeting the yacht’s daggerboard, as reported by the crew.
The run-in resulted in a damaged rudder and a leak in the vessel.
Following the encounter, the five-member crew contacted the Spanish lifesaving service, Salvamento Maritimo, which arranged for a tow to a nearby seaport.
Fortunately, there have been no reported injuries, and the vessel is currently awaiting repairs.
The frequency of these killer whale encounters has increased every year since the first incidents were reported in 2020, and some of the more recent run-ins have ended in sinkings.
The attacks have a specific pattern: the orcas always target the rudder, and they bump it to swing the boat through a wide arc. Not all attacks end in damage, but of those that do, a rudder failure is almost always the outcome.
The pattern of killer whale encounters over recent years has revealed their preference for targeting smaller sailboats, especially those measuring under 15 metres, while ignoring diesel-engined workboats.
Marine scientists have two theories regarding this behaviour: one suggests it might be motivated by revenge due to past injuries, while the other theory proposes it could be a form of play or socialisation within a specific orca family pod.
Although these interactions have caused property damage, there has been no documented case of orca attacks resulting in human fatalities.
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