MADRID, May 25 (Reuters) – Killer whales severely damaged a sailboat off the coast of southern Spain, the local maritime rescue service said on Thursday.
In the early hours of Thursday, a group of orcas broke rudder and punctured the hull after colliding with mastic en route to Gibraltar, prompting its four-man crew to contact Spanish authorities for help, a spokesman for the Maritime Rescue Service said.
A quick-response vessel and a helicopter mounted a bilge pump to assist the 20-meter (66-foot) British-flagged vessel, he added. Mustique was towed to the port of Barbate in Cadiz province for repairs.
According to GTOA, a research group that monitors populations of the Iberian orca subspecies, the incident follows at least 20 interactions between small vessels and highly social apex predators in the Strait of Gibraltar this month alone. GTOA data shows that in 2022, 207 interactions were reported.
Earlier in May, the sailboat Alboran Champagne suffered a similar attack from three orcas half a nautical mile off Barbate. The ship was completely flooded and could not be towed.
Guidelines issued by the Spanish Ministry of Transport state that whenever vessels observe any changes in orcas’ behavior – such as sudden changes in direction or speed – they must leave the area as soon as possible and avoid further disturbance to the animals during maneuvers.
The ministry added that every contact between a vessel and an orca must be reported to authorities.
Although called killer whales, endangered orcas are part of the dolphin family. They can measure up to eight meters and adults weigh up to six tons.
Report by David LaDonna; Editing by Charlie Devereux and Barbara Lewis
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