A group of killer whales has attacked a sailing boat in the waters of the Gibraltar Strait leaving the vessel without a working rudder and the captain said he had never seen anything like it.
The incident took place on the coast of Cape Spartel, in the Strait of Gibraltar, when the Serena IV ship was sailing between Europe and Africa on Saturday evening (27th March).
Sergio Rodman, the owner of the vessel, said: ‘We were coming from Italy and had stopped in Gibraltar in order to go to Lanzarote (in the south-western Spanish region of Canary Islands.’
Antonio Busse, 40, the ship’s German captain, said that the trip started in Italy after Rodman bought the ship there and they were travelling to the island of Lanzarote, where the owner has a house and a surfing school.
It was after midnight and Roman was on watch duty while the three other crew members were sleeping, except for Sergio Rodman.
Busse said that they heard a strange noise and rushed to the top of the ship. It was firstly thought the vessel had hit a container, but they quickly realised that killer whales were playing around the ship instead, trying to hit it.
According to Busse, there were only four killer whales, which approached the boat. They threw items at the killer whales in a bid to make them leave them alone but to no avail. The killer whales finally managed to break the rudder after they hit it repeatedly.
As a desperate measure, one of the crew lit a flare in order to force them to leave and this strategy worked as the group of orcas finally left them in peace.
Busse said that the situation was scary, adding that in his whole life sailing the seven seas, “something like this had never happened before, and I have been in Antarctica and I have never seen something like this.”
He added: ‘Killer whales are very smart and we have been told that they even steal the tuna from the fishing boats when they are hungry, but this situation of breaking a rudder is new.’
The captain also said that the killer whales prefer to play around with sailing boats as the fishing boats have their rudders very close to the propellers, something that is different in sailing boats.
Despite having a partially broken rudder, the vessel was able to finally anchor in the port of Tarifa, in southern Spain, where another boat, flying an American flag and called Aniway, had been attacked two days before by a group of killer whales, but they were in a worse condition as they had a water leak on the boat.
Alfredo Lopez, a biologist and coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals of Galicia, said: ‘They are not attacks but interactions as they do not intend to cause any harm.’
He added: “It is not normal, but it has been happening on different parts of the coast of Spain in the last year.”
He said: ‘They do not want to do any damage, they have a task, they find boats and try to examine them and those interactions happens, but they do not have the intention of injuring people or attacking them.’
According to the biologist, this group of killer whales, which have not been identified due to a lack of images showing their fins and flippers, might be young individuals because “the adults have no time as they have specific roles in the group, taking care of the young, but the young individuals are more idle and they are reckless and are the ones with more contact with humans.”
He also explained that the group of killer whales are commonly seen in the Gibraltar Strait looking for food, but they are already in the area in the early months of the year, as May is the most common month to see them.
They commonly travel in groups and they are usually seen in the Strait and then they go up along the Portuguese coast and Galicia (in north-western Spain), until they arrive on the coast of the Basque Country.
The four people aboard the sailing boat attacked by the killer whales have worked to build a new, handmade, temporary rudder – using metal – so that they can sail to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, to have it properly repaired so that they can continue their trip to Lanzarote.