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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Killer whales attacking sailboats near Portugal and Spain

More than 30 orca attacks on sailboats since July 2020 could have a devastating impact on thousands of yachts sailing through the Portuguese and Spanish coastline each year. 

The video below shows one of the first attacks. Courtesy of the Guardian. 

As far as I know, the first incident occurred on July 23, 2020. A sailor called Alfonso Gomez encountered four orcas that rammed his boat for over 50 minutes. "Once we had stopped, they came in faster at 10 to 15 knots, from a distance of about 25 m," he said. "The impact tipped the boat sideways."

On the previous night, at about 11:00 p.m., a few killer whales forced Beverly Harris and Kevin Large's 50-foot sailboat to a stop and spun it around several times for about 20 minutes. "I had this weird sensation," Harris said, "that they were trying to lift the boat." Earlier that very night, the whales struck Nick Giles' 34-foot sailboat with such force that he was left without steering. The killer whales then pushed the boat for 15 minutes before finally leaving.

Since that day, more than 30 similar incidents have been reported. On September 23, 2020, Spain's transport ministry even banned yachts less than 15 m long from sailing in the 60-mile area in the Atlantic coastline from Ferrol to the Estaca de Bares Cape, where the attacks were occurring.

However, the attacks have continued, now along the Portuguese coast, especially near Sines, a popular anchorage and marina for transients. It seems that 3 juvenile orcas (or the group to which they belong) have perpetrated all known attacks. And that makes sense since all attacks have occurred in only one area at any given time. The locations have changed because this group of orcas roam the coastline searching for the best hunting spots. Apparently they have settled in the Sines area for now.  

The last attack was reported a few days ago when the young delinquent orcas attacked an 8-m sailboat crewed by three French sailors on their way to Porto Santo, a small island near Madeira. The whales broke the boat's rudder and they had to be towed into the port of Sines. 

It seems that these young orcas are on a playful mission to destroy rudders and disable vessels. As far as I know, they have only attacked sailboats, likely due to the length and shape of their rudders. 

So far, authorities have issued recommendations on actions to take when being attacked: stop sailing and/or motoring; do not perform any avoidance maneuvers; and shut everything off, particularly the depth sounder. It is believed that they are more likely to get bored of biting and ramming rudders if the vessel stops moving. 

Have a look for yourself.

Below is an informative and well written summary by BBC about what's been going on:

BBC Article on Rogue Killer Whales

More samples of newspaper reports.

German sailor attacked near Sines

Guardian article and film clip

48 ft Scottish boat is attacked

If I get attacked, I'll be sure to film it or take photographs.


  1. WTF? I would categorize this as "concerning"!!

  2. More like a total nuisance for anybody who has to sail through the area.

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