A TEARAWAY gang of violent young male orcas have been battering sailing boats in terrifying attacks to “practice hunting”.
Alarmed teams on yachts have spotted the pod of adolescent male orcas north of their usual homes around the waters of Spain.
Half a dozen run-ins have been reported in Brittany – well north of their traditional watersCredit: MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT, MOBILITY AND URBAN AGENDA
A British sailor told of the terrifying moment his boat was attacked by two killer whalesCredit: BNPS
The sub-species of orcas off Spain are regularly spottedCredit: Solent
There has been increased reports of killer whales attacking boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal in recent years.
More than 230 orca interactions have been reported in the last two years in the Strait of Gibraltar – ranging from the massive mammals approaching boats to attacking them.
The sub-species of orcas off Spain are regularly spotted around in the area as they migrate to feed on the big tuna entering and leaving the Mediterranean each spring and end of summer.
Sailing boats have been abandoned in the waters from the onslaught of the orcas, and crews have told of terrifying experiences with the animals.
Earlier this month, five people were rescued after a pod of crazed killer whales sank a tourist boat off the coast of Portugal.
The 25ft orcas smashed a hole in the hull six miles from the port of Sines.
But this summer, half a dozen run-ins have been reported well north of their traditional waters in the Bay of Biscay near Brittany, France.
Ester Kristine Storkson, a 27-year-old Norwegian medical student, said her 12-metre yacht was attacked in the area by five orcas.
“They kept ramming us. We had the impression that it was a co-ordinated attack,” she wrote on Facebook.
Her yacht, on route to Madeira, limped into the Breton port of Brest for repairs after the onslaught from the killer whales.
The skipper of another yacht, who goes by the name Easy Swissa on social media, described a 10-minute assault in the same area.
“The orcas were very determined to bite us,” he wrote.
A Facebook account for reporting killer whale attacks is full of horror tales of bumping and ramming by the animals.
Another crew said: “They kept on ramming but mostly to one side, pushing the rudder on its maximum angle.
“At one point they also turned the boat 180 degrees against the wind, in what felt like one stable, strong movement.
“We could see orcas on all sides of the boat.”
The Iberian Orca group promotes the conservation of the sub-species of orcas which began assaults on sailing boats in 2020.
They said about half the boats that are rammed suffer damage to their rudders.
“It is a very small subpopulation, threatened and protected by different entities,” the conservation group told The Times.
And scientists believe the young male orcas treat the ramming as a game and as practice for hunting.
“If they wanted to breach the hulls, they could easily do it with their snouts but they only attack the rudders,” he told le Paraisien newspaper.
Experts also think the orcas like the sensation of the water stream produced by a powered boat’s propeller when they swim behind.
“What we think is that they’re asking to have the propeller in the face,” Renaud de Stephanis, a Spanish-based researcher, said.
“When they encounter a sailing boat that isn’t running its engine, they get kind of frustrated and that’s why they break the rudder.”
It comes after a British crew told how they were sailing 20 miles off the coast of Spain when they suddenly found their 50ft yacht surrounded by the killer creatures.
The pod of orcas appeared bent on destruction, attacking the boat with a huge amount of force.
Speaking on an episode of Close Calls: On Camera, crew member Martin said: “It was intense.
“We realised that if this animal chooses to do something, it will do it and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do to stop it.”
The former stand-up comedian was on a three-week voyage via the Mediterranean with another member of crew and a skipper.
On a clear afternoon, Martin was about to take a quick break for a cup of tea when he noticed the wheel started whizzing around on its own.
“The autopilot had been playing up on the trip, so we’d had a couple of situations where the boat would just go off course,” he said.
“But this was not an autopilot failure and I knew immediately we were in trouble.”
He added: “I could just see these whales on either side of the boat, right next to the boat and I just shouted down, ‘orcas!’
“Their power was tremendous.”
The crew realised the pod of aggressive killer whales were attacking the rudder of the boat, making the wheel spin uncontrollably.
Martin said it meant it was “impossible” to control the helm of the vessel.
“It was going to break my wrists, so it was hands off and just sit back” he said.
Sinking became a real possibility for the terrified crew as the whales continued to smash themselves into the hull of the yacht.
Martin called up the Spanish coastguard for help and they switched off all the electrics and dropped the sales, deciding to sit tight.
The terrifying saga lasted more than two hours before the orcas vanished as quickly as they appeared.
The crew knew they had been left with a damaged boat, but they managed to limp into the port at Gibraltar.
Martin said he considers himself extremely lucky to have escaped the closed encounter unharmed.
Martin said: “It was as close a call as I’ve had in my life and I really consider myself quite fortunate.”
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