Orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar have been harassing boats and their passengers for more than three years. (Image credit: Jackson Roberts via Getty Images)
In a series of unprecedented events, a group of audacious orcas in southwestern Europe has once again targeted and sunk a vessel, marking the fourth such incident in the past two years. On the evening of October 31, the “Grazie Mamma,” a mid-sized sailing yacht belonging to the Polish cruise company Morskie Mile, fell victim to an aggressive assault by an undisclosed number of orcas. The attack unfolded off the coast of Morocco within the confines of the Strait of Gibraltar, as reported by Morskie Mile representatives in a Facebook post translated from Polish.
These marine mammals, scientifically known as Orcinus orca or killer whales, subjected the vessel and its crew to a relentless onslaught lasting nearly 45 minutes. Their primary focus during this prolonged encounter was the repeated striking of the yacht’s rudder, inflicting significant damage and allowing seawater to infiltrate the vessel’s hull. Despite the prompt intervention of the Moroccan Navy and attempts to tow the Grazie Mamma to safety, the yacht ultimately succumbed to the damage as it approached the port of Tanger-Med in Morocco. Fortunately, all passengers were successfully evacuated to rescue boats prior to the boat’s sinking.
A juvenile orca carries away a large piece of a rudder
A juvenile orca carries away a large piece of a rudder after a similar attack in the Strait of Gibraltar in June this year. (Image credit: Screenshot from video by Dan Kriz)
This alarming incident is the latest manifestation of a series of unusual behaviors exhibited by orcas in the region, shedding light on the remarkable intelligence of these formidable marine predators. Beginning in 2020, these orcas have regularly harassed boats navigating the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow passage linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, situated between Spain and Morocco.
The origin of this distinctive pattern of behavior is believed to be associated with a pod led by White Gladis, a female orca potentially traumatized by a prior boat collision. This aberrant conduct has since spread among other members of the orca population, who appear to be growing increasingly bold and proficient in their attacks.
To date, at least three additional vessels have met a similar fate in this area, with the most recent incident occurring in May 2023 and the preceding two in 2022. In a separate incident in June, a yacht had its rudder swiftly severed in a 15-minute attack marked by ruthless efficiency. Researchers suspect that the orcas are learning these tactics from one another, with eyewitnesses reporting instances where orcas seemingly “teach” their peers how to maximize the damage they inflict, as previously covered by Live Science.
An isolated incident occurred outside the Strait of Gibraltar and its nearby waters when a lone orca rammed a yacht in Scotland, a distance of over 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) away. However, it remains challenging to establish a direct link between this occurrence and the orchestrated attacks by the orcas in southwestern Europe.