Killer Whales Attack Vessels Near Iberian Coast

Killer Whales Attack Vessels Near Iberian Coast
Last updated May 26, 2023
Image credit: Unsplash


  • A group of killer whales severely damaged a sailing boat off the coast of southern Spain on Thursday. This is the latest in a series of similar incidents in the waters near Spain and Portugal.[1]
  • According to the research group Grupo Trabajo Orca Atlantica, which tracks populations of the Iberian sub-species of orca, the attack follows at least 20 interactions between Orcas and small vessels this May alone, in the Strait of Gibraltar.[2]
  • The latest incident happened Thursday morning when a group of orcas broke the rudder and pierced the hull of the Mustique, a small vessel sailing under the British flag, as it was on its way to Gibraltar.[3]
  • The boat's four-person crew contacted the Spanish authorities for assistance, and after a rapid response vessel was deployed, the boat was eventually towed back to the port for repairs.[3]
  • A similar incident happened earlier this month when the sailing yacht Alboran Champagne was rammed by three orcas near the coast of Barbate and left to sink.[2]
  • Scientists hypothesize that the orca attacks are either a passing fad amongst juvenile whales or could be a response to past bad interactions between boats and the whales.[4]


Narrative A

The Iberian orca subpopulation is critically endangered and their migration routes put them in close contact with human fishing, military activities, and recreational boating. Even if indirectly, human maritime activities are triggering this aggressive behavior.

Narrative B

While these incidents may be worrying, the young whales may just be attracted to the boats and are conveying this behavior through complex social behavior. Orcas have not historically been known to be aggressive toward humans — even when they were being hunted and placed in captivity in earlier decades.

Narrative C

Killer whales are a species being stressed by climate change. Warming waters, changing food webs, and melting sea ice is pushing these magnificent creatures farther north, changing their diets and behavior. We must keep in mind greater environmental pressures when observing changes in one of the ocean's apex predators.

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