The orcas continue to grow bolder.
Over the last two years, attacks on boats by orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar have continued to baffle scientists.
What was originally considered a relatively random or harmless series of encounters has now turned into a full-fledged phenomenon — not only are more whales engaging in the attacks, the rate of damaging and sinking boats is increasing.
There’s also evidence they’re teaching the technique to their young.
Scientists and media have descended upon the Spanish coast to make sense of the phenomenon, with such early theories as black anti-fouling paint being a trigger for inducing attacks.
When the black paint theory failed to explain the increasing intensity and duration of the attacks, researchers began analyzing data and discovered unnerving trends — of the 25 attacks so far in 2023, one yacht has been sunk, seven had ‘extensive’ damage, seven had ‘moderate’ damage, and one had ‘minor’ damage.
But there was something else.
One particular whale, with the peculiar name White Gladis, appeared to not only be the instigator behind many attacks, she was also teaching young whales her methods.
Now things have gotten even more dire as a trio of whales attacked a racing yacht during The Ocean Race off the Spanish coast. The Ocean Race is an epic 32,000 nautical mile (60,000 km) jaunt around the globe that stops at nine international cities on five continents and takes six months to complete. 60 boats are vying for the top prize.
A group of whales approached the boat of Team JAJO from The Netherlands and spent 15 minutes circling and bumping the vessel. The crew was forced to pull their sails and make noise to deter the attack. Much like previous encounters, the whales were particularly interested in attacking and damaging the keel, which can be as long as 12′ (3.65 m) on a racing yacht.
Jelmer van Beek, the Team JAJO skipper, told the Associated Press:
“This was a scary moment. Three orcas came straight at us and started hitting the rudders. Impressive to see the orcas, beautiful animals, but also a dangerous moment for us as a team.”
“We took down the sails and slowed down the boat as quickly as possible, and luckily after a few attacks, they went away,” van Beek said.
The team dropped from their racing speed of roughly 12 knots (14 mph) to a crawl, which seemed to lessen the interest of the orcas. According to the Cruising Association, one of their recommendations to minimize an attack is to reduce a vessel’s speed. After a short while, the trio seemingly lost interest and moved on.
“We knew that there was a possibility of an orca attack this leg,” said Team JAJO on-board reporter Brend Schuil. “So we had already spoken about what to do if the situation would occur.”
There is no confirmation yet if White Gladis was part of the gang.
The team dropped to 4th place after the encounter, but eventually made their way back to 2nd place by the end of the day. The race is now entering its final leg as they sprint towards the finish in Genova, Italy.
You can see a video of the encounter below: