Mr de Stephanis added: “If two or three killer whales really attacked a yacht, they would sink it in a matter of seconds.
“It might feel like an attack to us humans but, without wanting to be too dismissive, a furious attack by this animal could have much worse consequences for a boat and for whoever is onboard than a mere feeling of fear for a few minutes.”
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Scores of orcas have been attacking vessels off the coast of the Iberian peninsular since 2020.
The most recent attack took place on Monday when a pod of killer whales allegedly ran into the side of a ship carrying two people in the strait of Gibraltar, forcing the pair to be rescued by the Spanish coastguard.
Just days before the latest attack two yachts taking part in The Ocean Race had encounters with orcas. One crew endured a 20-minute assault as three orcas slammed into their hull before swimming away.
CIRCE researchers have identified one juvenile orca in the pod who appears to be the driving force behind the behaviour.
Mr de Stephanis said the animal had repeatedly initiated encounters with the boats and drawn in other young orcas to the action.
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Closer inspection of the animal has led researchers to notice a scar behind its dorsal fin which they say it received in 2017 when it got too close to a ship’s propeller.
Mr de Stephanis noted that he had no idea why the orcas had started behaving this way in recent years. He said: “Don’t ask me how they started it because I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone ever will.”
As the attacks continue, Spanish authorities are trying to work out how to stop the aggressive interceptions. One potential course of action being considered is to stop boats from travelling through the area of water where the orcas are operating.
Speaking to the press, government sub-delegate Jose Pacheco said the Ministry of Transport’s Maritime Harbour Master’s Office “is working” to clarify whether, “as has happened in previous summers, these are one-off events or whether they seem to be on the rise” and “whether they are random or real attacks”.
Mr Pacheco added: “If the Maritime Harbour Master’s Office deems it appropriate, it will start with some measures, as happened in previous summers, to limit certain areas in which navigation was prohibited because it is an area where killer whales pass through.”
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