Orcas strike back (again), sinking another yacht in Europe after 45-minute attack

Sailors’ newest nightmare has struck again, and on Halloween of all days.

A pod of orcas in southwestern Europe sank a sailing boat on Oct. 31 after a non-stop, 45-minute attack, Live Science reported.  The incident is the fourth occurrence  in two years where orcas, also known as killer whales, are blamed for sinking ships in southwestern Europe.

Orca pods from the Strait of Gibraltar region have been harassing boats and their passengers for more than three years.

According to a translated Facebook post made by Polish cruise company Morskie Mile, owner of the sunken boat, a mid-size sailing yacht named the Grazie Mamma was attacked by a pod of orcas off the coast of Morocco in the Strait of Gibraltar. Major damage caused by an unknown number of orcas who repeatedly hit the yacht's rudder caused water to enter the vessel's hull.  All passengers were safely evacuated before the boat sank as it entered the port of Tanger-Med in Morocco while in tow with the Moroccan Navy.

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Why are orcas attacking boats?

Tales of orca ambushes have started gaining more traction online as reported incidents off the Iberian coast jumped from 52 in 2020 to more than 200 last year, though no human injuries or deaths have been reported,  Orca research group GTOA revealed earlier this year.

Experts first documented juvenile Iberian killer whales  — a "unique subpopulation of killer whales that lives in the northeast Atlantic," — touching, pushing, and even turning vessels, including some fishing and inflatable boats, in 2020, GTOA said. Experts think the rest of the population could be mimicking the behavior.

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An orca pod was captured attacking a boat off the coast of Morocco.
An orca pod was captured attacking a boat off the coast of Morocco.

Experts gathered earlier this year to try and address "urgent need for specific actions based on  international coordination between  administrations, mariners and scientists  to prevent future damage to  people, orcas and vessels," GTOA said.

Andrew Trites, professor and director of Marine Mammal Research at the University of British Columbia, told CBS News that there are two main theories about why this is happening, but for now it remains to be an “unprecedented” mystery. Trites said something is positively reinforcing the behavior among the highly intelligent species.

Iberian orcas are the only species of whale that have been known to attack boats in this region, Trites added.

The first main theory is that orcas are engaging in a type of whale "play" or "sport,” Trites said. The second theory is that orcas’ years of dealing with traumatic boating injuries have resulted in a "negative experience.”

Whale expert Anne Gordon told USA Today that these are isolated incidents.

"Yes, their job is to be predators in the ocean, but in normal circumstances there is absolutely zero threat to humans in a boat," Gordon said.

“I think it gets taken as aggression because it’s causing damage, but I don’t think we can say that the motivation is aggressive necessarily,” Monika Wieland Shields, director of the Washington based nonprofit research organization Orca Behavior Institute, told NBC News late last month.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Orcas, or killer whales, blamed for attack sinking sailboat in Europe