A group of orcas managed to sink a yacht off the coast of Morocco last week, after its 45-minute attack on the vessel caused irreparable damage, a Polish tour company said.
The incident happened Tuesday, Oct. 31, as a crew with the boat touring group sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar. The narrow waterway bridges the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, which separates the southern tip of Europe from northern Africa.
A pod of orcas, colloquially called killer whales, approached the yacht and "hit the steering fin for 45 minutes, causing major damage and leakage," the tour agency Morskie Mile, which is based in Warsaw and operated the yacht, wrote on Facebook in a translated post.
Although its captain and crew were assisted by a search-and-rescue team as well as the Moroccan Navy, the yacht could not be salvaged. It sank near the entrance to the port of Tanger-Med, a major complex of ports some 30 miles northeast of Tangier along the Strait of Gibraltar. None of the crew members were harmed, said the Polish tour agency, adding that those on board the sunken yacht were already safe and in Spain by the time their Facebook post went live.
"This yacht was the most wonderful thing in maritime sailing for all of us. Longtime friendships formed on board," wrote Morskie Mile. The company said it was involved in other upcoming cruises in the Canary Islands and would work to make sure those boat trips went ahead as planned.
Last week's incident in the Strait of Gibraltar was not the first of its kind. Reported attacks by killer whales that seem to be trying deliberately to capsize boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal have more than tripled over the last two years, according to data released in the spring by the research group GTOA, which studies orcas around Gibraltar.
"Nobody knows why this is happening," Andrew W. Trites, professor and director of Marine Mammal Research at the University of British Columbia, told CBS News in May. "My idea, or what anyone would give you, is informed speculation. It is a total mystery, unprecedented."
GTOA recorded 52 maritime interactions with orcas between the Strait of Gibraltar and Galicia, a coastal province in northwestern Spain, between July and November 2020. The incidents picked up in the years that followed, with 197 interactions recorded in 2021 and 207 recorded in 2022, GTOA said, noting that the interactions mainly affected sailboats.
Then, in June of this year, one of two sailing teams involved in an international race around the world reported a frightening confrontation involving multiple orcas as they traveled through the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Gibraltar. The teams, which were competing in The Ocean Race, said the orcas did not damage their boats or harm crews, but recalled the sea creatures pushing up against and, in one instance, ramming into one of the boats. The orcas also nudged and bit the rudders, one crew member said.