Spain holiday warning as killer whales strike in late-night attack – ‘rudder split in two’

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The killer whales struck off the coast of Spain near the resort of Barbate, a municipality of Cadiz. Maritime rescue confirmed they had come to the rescue of the boat and its two occupants.

The service tweeted: “Sailboat Grappa requested assistance at 2.25am from the Tarifa Maritime Rescue Centre due to the attack of killer whales west of Barbate.”

It is not yet known how many whales attacked the boat but the occupants were so worried they phoned for urgent help.

The boat was intercepted at 2am and towed into port at 4am and there were no injuries.

However, this isn’t the first time that an orca attack has occured on the Spanish coastline.

In October 2021, the Spanish Government launched a major investigation to find out why killer whales were attacking boats in Gibraltar and Galicia.

The Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge ordered the probe after a series of whale attacks.

There have been more than 60 incidents according to scientists. They began during the summer of 2020.

Dozens of boats have been chased and harassed by the whales but scientists believe only a few specimens are responsible for the attacks.

Around 15 percent of the incidents have had material consequences for the boats involved.

The Ministry said: “The interactions of juvenile killer whales with boats of various kinds, to satisfy their curiosity, are common in the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar and the southern coast of Portugal, in recent years.

“On the other hand, the interactions with sailboats are considered unprecedented due to the physical contact of the specimens with the structure of the boats.”

After one of the first attacks last year, a crew member said: “Our 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.”

The yacht was later taken under tow, but the impacts from the orcas continued, snapping the tow rope.

When the yacht was lifted ashore there were clear bite marks on the hull and the rudder was split in two.

And after another incident, one of the crews of a yacht said: “I was quite aware of the orca interactions beforehand but I thought we kind of got through the worst area of it by the time we had ours.

“There are two little pots of shallow water around Cadiz heading towards Tarifa. I was on my watch and the boat was on autopilot.

“I turned around to see the steering of the boat flying left, right, left, right, crashing on its binnacle.

“I turned the pilot to manual, and then either side of me there were orcas everywhere.

“I think we were hit on the rudder 100 or 200 times. It was consistent! They were around for a solid hour. We put sails down as per the guidance, and eventually they did go away.

“But they were gone for 20 minutes, then they came back. We could see them breaking the surface in the distance and making a beeline straight for the rudder. They were very focussed in their task.”

Some experts think the killer whales are playing with the boats but doubts remain over what is causing the behaviour.

Additional reporting by Rita Sobot.

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