A group of orcas attacked and sank the Grazie Mamma, a mid-size sailing yacht owned by Polish cruise company Morskie Mile. The attack, which lasted about forty-five minutes, took place in southwest Europe off the coast of Morocco in the Strait of Gibraltar on October 31st.
Despite rescue efforts by the Moroccan Navy, the vessel sank upon reaching the port of Tanger-Med. All passengers were safely evacuated.
This incident marks the fourth time within the last two years that orcas in the southwestern European region have caused the sinking of a vessel. The pattern of aggression displayed by these orcas has caught the attention of marine experts.
ORCAS UNDEN BARCO EN GIBRALTAR
Un grupo de orcas en el Estrecho de Gibraltar han hundido un velero, el ‘Grazie Mamma II’. Este no pudo salir a flote el pasado 31 de octubre durante las labores de rescate, que sí permitieron salvar a toda su tripulación. pic.twitter.com/ntYW27loJP
— VOM Noticias (@VOMNoticias) November 8, 2023
Orca Attacks and Unusual Behavior
Researchers believe the series of attacks might have been instigated by a female orca named White Gladis, potentially traumatized by a previous boat collision. This behavior appears to have caught on with other members of the pod, leading to increasingly audacious assaults on boats navigating the area.
The Strait of Gibraltar and surrounding waters off the Iberian Peninsula have witnessed multiple confrontations between orcas and vessels since 2020. It has been observed that the orcas not only target boats but also instruct each other on maximizing the damage they inflict during such encounters, Live Science reported.
— Juan Carlos Navarro (@caratnos) June 1, 2023
Apart from the boat incidents, orcas have displayed other unusual behaviors in recent years, such as preying on great white sharks by extracting their livers. Such incidents have been documented in South Africa and, more recently, in Australia, indicating potential shifts in the traditional hunting patterns of orcas.
Additionally, orcas have previously exhibited other unusual temporary trends, including wearing dead salmon on their heads as hats. Though concerning, scientists speculate this behavior may disappear as suddenly as it appeared. Researchers believe it is unlikely that killer whales act with malice or a desire for revenge against humans.
Some scientists theorize the orcas’ behavior may be attributed to playfulness, as they seem to interact with boat rudders by nudging them until they break.
Emphasis on a Need to Protect Orcas
The recent escalation of confrontations between orcas and boats has raised concerns among researchers and the general public. While the motive behind the orcas’ behavior remains unclear, scientists emphasize the need to avoid projecting human emotions onto marine animals.
According to The Washington Post, orcas generally do not harm people, and humans pose a greater threat to them than vice versa.
The vulnerable status of the orca population in the region, deemed critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, highlights the need for conservation efforts to ensure their survival amidst increasing human activity in their habitats.