Orcas Sink Another Boat In Europe, And The Behavior Is Spreading

A trio of orcas worked together to sink a yacht off the coast of Spain, the latest in a string of similar incidents involving the marine mammals and European boats.

The three killer whales, one larger than the other two, rammed into the yacht on May 4, skipper Werner Schaufelberger said in a media report published last week.

“The two little orcas observed the bigger one’s technique and, with a slight run-up, they too slammed into the boat,” he told Germany’s Yacht magazine.

The people aboard were all rescued, but the boat ultimately sank.

Since 2020, there have been “continuous” reports of orcas having these kinds of “interactions” with boats in the Strait of Gibraltar and the waters around Spain’s Galicia region, biologist Alfredo López Fernandez of Portugal’s University of Aveiro told Live Science.

The researcher, who co-authored a paper on the phenomenon published last year in the journal Marine Mammal Science, told Live Science that he only knew of three instances since 2020 in which orcas had fully sunk a boat. He also noted that the vast majority of vessels are left in peace.

A female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound, west of Seattle, in 2014.
A female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound, west of Seattle, in 2014. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

In 2022, orcas sank two sailboats — one in July and one in November — off the coast of Portugal.

In those cases, everyone was rescued and there were no injuries. But the incidents can be jarring even when the boats don’t sink.

Speaking to NPR last year, yacht passenger Ester Kristine Storkson described how a group of orcas near France started “ramming the boat” she was on, giving the impression of “a coordinated attack.” In 2020, British yacht captain David Smith said that “six or seven” orcas started slamming into his vessel for two hours, apparently “going for the rudder.” In both instances, the yachts did not sink and no one was injured.

Researchers don’t know for sure what’s prompted the behavior. But López Fernandez told Live Science that some scientists suspect it all started when a female known as White Gladis had an initial collision or other traumatic encounter involving a boat. The theory is that she then started exhibiting “defensive behavior” against vessels, which other orcas began to copy.

“That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat,” López Fernandez said.

While seafarers may not be pleased with the new orca fad, the animals appeared to have gained quite a few fans on social media.