Killer Whales Sunk a 50-Foot Sailing Yacht in the Strait of Gibraltar

Two sailors had a whale of a time over the weekend—but only in the technical sense.

The duo was rescued on Sunday after a group of orcas sunk their sailing yacht near the Strait of Gibraltar, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. The seafarers were out on the 50-foot Alboran Cognac when the whales started slamming the hull, eventually causing a leak and damaging the rudder. An oil tanker was able to evacuate the sailors to Gibraltar before the boat eventually sank.

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The incident is the fifth such sinking in recent years in the area off North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, the Times noted. And while the sailing yacht was the first vessel to sink this year, it’s just the latest in a string of similar events that has captivated sailors, marine biologists, and the public at large. Last summer, for example, three orcas attacked a yacht during an international race in the Strait of Gibraltar.

“This was a scary moment,” the skipper Jelmer van Beek said at the time. “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.”

The ship that sank after an orca attack last year
A ship that sank after an orca attack last year

While that attack didn’t result in the sinking of the ship, another sailing yacht sank near the Tanger Med port in November, The New York Times wrote. The crew of that ship had to abandon the boat after a group of orcas slammed into the rudder for a whole 45 minutes. (The whales have seemingly been targeting sailboats in particular.)

Researchers don’t know for sure why the whales have been attacking boats, but they think it may be one of the ways the orcas play, the Times said—a pretty dangerous form of amusement, albeit. Others have theorized that it’s a short-term fad among the animals, or that one orca experienced a traumatic event that made it aggressive and other whales began to mimic that behavior. The incidents have become so common in recent years that sailors trade advice online about how to maneuver in the Strait of Gibraltar area, and the Spanish government issued a release that included tips for sailors.

According to that same release, orcas are more likely to show up near the Strait of Gibraltar and the Gulf of Cádiz from April to August, so we’re just heading into the busy season when it comes to whale spottings. While ideally that doesn’t mean more orca attacks as well, sailors in those waters would do well to keep their eyes peeled for the black-and-white beasts.

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