This week’s confrontation between a pod of orcas and the Nauticat 44 ketch Tuuletar which left the boat rudderless is just the latest in a string of encounters with orcas off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, over 50 of these encounters have been reported, half of which required the damaged boats to be towed back to shore. The above video from Halcyon Yachts shows one of these unnerving encounters from onboard. In response, Spain has ordered bans on small boats sailing between Cape Trafalgar to Barbate twice in the past year.
It's not clear what’s causing this behavior, which began with a surge of encounters last summer. A number of theories are circulating, including humans closing in on breeding grounds, motors disrupting the sea life, and play/training for adolescent whales. The Gibraltar orca is an endangered species, and the stress of scarce food and surviving in a heavily populated area could also be factors.
Fortunately, the orcas, a species known for being extremely intelligent and capable of doing serious damage, don’t seem intent on sinking the boats. However, an encounter like this will still result in a hefty bill from the shipyard, so the area is best avoided if possible.
The public Facebook group ORCA Attack Reporting was created to keep track of these events and share information.