Orcas Attack and Sink Sailboat With Five on Board, Miles From Coast

Orcas have attacked and sunk a sailboat with five people on board, miles from the Portugal coast. The sailboat was about six miles off the coast of Sines when the mammals attacked, a statement from the Portuguese Navy said.

The boat was so badly damaged it started to sink. The five crew members were then rescued by a nearby fishing vessel. They were able to go aboard a lifeboat.

There have been no reported injuries following the incident.

Lisbon’s Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center was alerted to the incident at around midnight. The passengers were then escorted to shore, and were able to dock safely at 2:43 am

“Interaction with these mammals occurs mainly due to the curious behavior of juvenile orcas, which are attracted to the moving and noisy vessel structures, such as the rudder and propeller, can get too close to the vessels and embankments,” the navy said in a statement.

“In the event of sighting these mammals, all sailors are advised to turn off the engine, in order to inhibit the rotation of the propeller, and immobilize the rudder door, thus demotivating these mammals to interact with the moving structures of the boats.”

Newsweek has contacted the Portuguese Navy for more information.

A stock photo shows a pod of orcas underwater. In 2020 three male orcas were suspected to be the culprits of several boat attacks.
Serge Melesan

Orcas often come to the coast of Portugal during the summer months, to feed on the tuna that live around the Gibraltar Strait. Although fearsome predators to other marine wildlife, they rarely attack humans outside of captivity.

However, this has not been the first instance of orcas behaving aggressively to boats in this particular area, although it appears to be the first time a boat has sunk as a result.

Since 2020, orca boat attacks have been increasing off the coast of Portugal. Authorities identified three juvenile orca believed to be the culprits at the start of the attacks. In particular, they appeared to be targeting the hull and rudder of the sailboats.

The BBC reported in 2020 that in just six months, there were 40 attacks involving orcas off the coast of Spain and Portugal. The attacks have continued since then. One incident saw a couple from the UK left adrift miles off from the the coast of Portugal after their boat was attacked.

The Navy is launching an investigation into this most recent incident, according to a Facebook page dedicated to discussing orca attacks.

Orcas are incredibly intelligent mammals and display complex, emotional behavior. It’s known they can suffer mental trauma, and act out as a result. This was documented in the 2013 documentary on Sea World’s captive killer whale, Tilikum. However it is unclear why attacks may happen in the wild.

Scientists have observed killer whales approaching fishing boats, having learned that the fishing lines could provide an easy meal. It is possible that this has taught certain pods to be bolder in approaching boats.

It is also possible that these “attacks” are not supposed to be an act of aggression. The giant mammals are playful creatures, and some scientists believe they approach boats out of curiosity. Male killer whales however can sometimes grow up to 26 feet, and weigh 12,000 pounds, meaning their “games” can be frightening and dangerous.

One Facebook user, posting in Orca Attack – Iberia, said it may help to know more about the models of the boats being attacked, as it could “help to better understand what motivates Orcas to this behavior.”

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