Killer whales sink sailboat again in the Strait of Gibraltar

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sailboat sunk by orcas
ASSSA

Infamous orcas ‘Gladis’ have struck again in the Strait of Gibraltar. On Sunday the sailboat Alborán Cognac sank after encountering these marine mammals. This is the first ship sunk by orcas this year. This brings the total number of shipwrecks since 2020 to seven.

According to the Spanish Coast Guard, the two crew members of the Alborán Cognac requested evacuation around 9.00 am on Sunday. Their ship was badly damaged by the attack 14 miles off the coast of Cape Espartel, in Moroccan waters. The orca attack had damaged the rudder and left a hole in the hull, causing the 50-foot sailboat to sink.

In response, a rescue helicopter was deployed and the nearby tanker ship MT Lascaux was asked to assist. The crew was instructed to wear life jackets and activate the AIS (Automatic Identification System). An hour after the first distress signal, the two sailors were safely aboard the tanker ship. However, the sailboat could not be saved and eventually sank.

Behaviour of the orcas

According to experts from the Grupo de Trabajo Orca Atlántica (GTOA), attacks by the ‘Gladis’ killer whales, a group of 15 animals, have been a well-known phenomenon since May 2020. These killer whales are part of a population of approximately 37 animals that live between the north of the Iberian Peninsula and the Strait of Gibraltar. They have already sunk seven ships, including five sailing boats and two Moroccan fishing boats.

The orca protagonists of these incidents are called Gladis. That is an allusion to one of their first local names, ‘killer whale Gladiator’. To distinguish them from each other, they were also given a surname and thus White Gladis, Gray Gladis and Black Gladis were born.

Cogesa Expats

The last boat to be sunk due to a ‘collision’ with orcas was the Grazie Mama II. This sailing yacht was attacked by a group of orcas for 45 minutes. The boat was so badly damaged that it eventually began to sink near the port of Tangier. The crew was able to be brought to safety in time.

Non-intentional attacks

Alfredo López is a marine biologist and emphasises that these behaviours are not targeted attacks. Rather, it seems like a learned behaviour that may be related to their curiosity, playfulness, or some form of precaution. “They don’t act like a battering ram to attack and sink a boat, although they could if that was their intention,” López told El País.

Precautionary actions

The Ministry of Transport and Mobility Sostenible has published guidelines for skippers navigating the Gulf of Cádiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. A first recommendation is not to stop, but to sail to the coast. Get away from the deep waters where the orcas normally reside as quickly as possible. It is also important to minimise movements on board. This can prevent injuries or falls overboard. Furthermore, no measures may be taken that could injure or irritate the orcas. Skippers should always report an encounter with orcas to the nearest rescue center.

App Orcinus

For those who plan to go sailing in areas where orcas are active, it may be useful to download the Orcinus app. When someone on board a ship spots a group of orcas, that person activates the application and writes down the coordinates. In this way, scientists connected to the app can track the routes of the orcas and possibly warn shipping in certain areas in time.

Also read: Orcas make sailboat rudderless in A Coruña

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