Orcas continue to sink ships off the Iberian Peninsula, making sailors nervous | ET REALITY


The yacht Grazie Mamma II took its crew along the coasts and archipelagos of the Mediterranean. Her latest adventure was off the coast of Morocco last week, when she encountered a pod of orcas.

The marine animals hit the yacht’s rudder for 45 minutes, causing significant damage and a leak. according to Morskie Milla, the ship’s Polish operators. The crew escaped and rescuers and the Moroccan Navy attempted to tow the yacht to safety, but she sank near the port of Tangier Med, the operator said on his website.

The story of the sinking adds to the concerns of many sailors along the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula, where marine biologists are studying a puzzling phenomenon: killer whales pushing and ramming boats in interactions that have disrupted dozens of voyages. and caused at least four ships In the last two years it has collapsed.

Orcas, the largest of the dolphin family, are playful predators that hunt sharks, whales, and other prey, but are generally friendly toward humans in the wild. Orcas that hunt in the Strait of Gibraltar are considered endangeredand researchers have observed an increase in unusual behavior since 2020: a small group of marine animals hitting ships on busy routes in Portugal, Spain and Morocco.

While most interactions occur in the waters of southwestern Europe and northern Africa, an orca would have also attacked a yacht about 2,000 miles north of the coast of Scotland, according to The Guardian.

“Orcas are complex, intelligent and very social,” said Erich Hoyt, a researcher with Whale and Dolphin Conservation and author of “Orca: The Whale Called Killer.” “We’re still in the early stages of trying to understand this behavior.”

Researchers have rejected the idea that orcas are attacking ships. Instead, they theorize that boat rudders have become a toy for curious young orcas and that the behavior has become a learned fad that is spreading through the population. Another hypothesis, according to biologists. who published a study on the population last June, is that ramming is an “adverse behavior” due to a bad experience between an orca and a boat, although researchers tend to favor the former.

It’s unclear what will stop the onslaught, whether it’s a game or not, a point that has left anxious skippers traveling through these parts sharing tips on Facebook groups dedicated to tracking such interactions..

“It’s been an interesting summer hiding in the shallows,” said Greg Blackburn, a Gibraltar-based skipper. The orcas crashed into a boat he was commanding in May and bit into the rudder, he said, although the boat was able to return to shore.

The encounter left an impression: on a recent trip to Barcelona, ​​Blackburn had to pass through an area where orcas had been sighted the previous week. “I really felt sick for about three hours,” he said, “just looking at the horizon constantly to see if a fin would appear.”

Conservationists, maritime rescue groups and yacht clubs are partner to meet the challenge to preserve an endangered population and help sailors avoid calamities. The Cruise Association, a club that supports boaters, has recommended safety protocols for encounters with orcas, such as unplugging the boat and remaining silent. Skippers have offered each other anecdotal advice to deter attacks, such as throwing sand into the water and hitting the boat hard.

Before setting sail, sailors can also consult digital platforms which now track reported killer whale sightings and interactions in the region. This can help them avoid the animals or chart a route closer to shore, said Bruno Díaz López, a biologist and director of the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute based in Galicia, Spain.

“We suggested that the boats stay in shallow waters,” he said, adding that they had noticed more boats changing their trips. “Maybe the trip will last longer, yes. But is it worth it.”

Blackburn, the captain, said he had heard of people resorting to throwing firecrackers into the sea to try to scare away the animals, adding that the boats served as homes for people in the ocean. “At the end of the day, if you’re protecting your home, what are you going to do?”

But the ocean is home to orcas, and conservationists say scaring the animals is not a solution.

“It’s not about winning a battle, because this is not a war,” López said. “We need to be respectful.”

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