orcas playing with sailing yachts

Over the recent months, we have heard more and more news of "Killer Whales attacking Sailing Yachts in the Med". There has indeed been an increasing amount of such incidents between Orcas, sailboats and smaller fishing vessels.

I don't like using the words "Attack!" or "Killer Whales" simply because it doesn't do these intelligent animals justice. To believe these are some random vicious attacks because the Orcas have nothing better to do is a foolish assumption.

One theory why this is happening is the lack of food that is no longer available in the Med due to commercial overfishing. The Orcas are not mistaking the sailing vessels for food; they try to "dismantle" the boats so they can't continue moving.

Another more likely theory is that these are revenge attacks based on the increasing stress for the animals, especially in the busy Strait of Gibraltar: The approximately 50 orcas still living there suffer from noise and pollution. There are frequent conflicts with fishermen who compete with the whales for tuna.

It also looks like the same pod of 10-20 orcas along the coast of Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar is involved in the incidents. This would explain why they systematically went after the rudders of the ships they attacked. Several vessels had to call marine rescue to be towed back into safety.

Orcas are pretty curious and generally swim close to boats and even bump into them but never have any "attacks" been recorded.

In a recent video, a British crew filmed their encounter with a group of Orcas close to Gibraltar. You can hear how the cetaceans communicate with each other.

I honestly don't believe they would be able to sink your boat (not a 40+ footer) as suggested in the movie, but I totally understand the stress any skipper would experience. Losing the rudder is a pretty crappy situation.

It seems that switching off the engine and dropping sails helps in most cases as the orcas seem to lose interest after a while.

This is a safety protocol developed by the Atlantic Orca Working Group. You will find more information about all incidents and more research on their site.