Orcas sink another boat, Polish tour agency says

A herd of orcas sank another boat last week in the Strait of Gibraltar, according to the company that operated the yacht.

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The incident happened Oct. 31 near the entrance to port of Tanger Med, according to Polish tour company Morskie Mile.

“They hit the steering fin for 45 minutes, causing major damage and leakage,” company officials said in a social media post about the encounter. Crew members and officials tried to get the yacht to a port, but it sank before that could happen.

“The crew is safe, unharmed and sound,” according to Morskie Mile.

The incident marked the latest encounter between killer whales and marine vessels along the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Encounters in the area began to spike in July 2020, according to the non-profit group Whale and Dolphin Conservation and a 2022 study published in Marine Mammal Science.

Since 2021, orcas have sunk at least a half-dozen vessels, though researchers say most interactions involve, at most, “moderate contact.”

Scientists have warned not to label the incidents as “attacks,” calling the term misleading.

“While some parts of the vessels infrequently have teeth marks on them, the predominant damage to rudders and keels are due to strikes or rams with the head or body,” experts said in an open letter published in August. “The whales are not ripping the rudders apart, as they might if this were hunting behavior.”

Andrew W. Trites, professor and director of Marine Mammal Research at the University of British Columbia, told CBS News in May, “Nobody knows why this is happening.”

“My idea, or what anyone would give you, is informed speculation,” he said. “It is a total mystery, unprecedented.”

The orca population in the Strait of Gibraltar is considered critically endangered with less than 50 mature individuals in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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