Aggressive orca whales damage yachts off Biscay
An unexplained spate of apparent attacks on yachts by killer whales off the coast of Spain has caused serious damage to several boats.
The latest yacht to be damaged was a Hallberg-rassy 36, which was en route to the UK from Spain and being sailed by a delivery crew from Halcyon Yachts when it encountered the aggressive whale pod.
“Our delivery crew had just set off from A Coruña and were a couple of miles offshore when the crew suddenly felt the wheel being ripped out of their hands,” Peter Green of Halcyon Yachts told Yachting World.
“At first they thought something had gone wrong with the autopilot but it carried on and then they saw the orca. It is not uncommon for them to come and play but this is a new thing.”
The spate of attacks has ranged from just off A Coruña, on the northern coast of Spain, to Vigo, some 70 miles south. Other vessels that have reported attacks include a Spanish naval yacht, Mirfak, which lost part of its rudder after orcas seemed to bite the stern (this attack was captured on video, see the Guardian News Youtube channel). Other skippers have reported sustained and seemingly orchestrated attacks, with the orcas whistling loudly to communicate and spinning yachts violently.
Scientists are perplexed. It’s not known whether all encounters are with the same pod, but given that this is highly unusual behaviour it seems likely that all reported incidents involve one group of whales.
“It’s not clear why they started attacking the boat, or even if they were attacking it. Perhaps they were just playing aggressively,” says Green. “But I wonder if they might have had an incident with a fishing boat in the area. The reason I say that is that our guys were motor sailing when they were first struck, causing enough damage to require them to radio the coastguard in order to get a tow back in. When they turned the engine off to await help, the pod left. When the Spanish Coastguard arrived they returned and started again so it might be something to do with the engine noise.”
Green reports that when the Hallberg-rassy was later lifted ashore there were clear bite marks on the hull and keel, and the rudder was completely split.