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In a bizarre and unprecedented event, a group of orcas orchestrated a 45-minute attack on a yacht, ultimately causing its demise off the coast of Morocco last week. The incident unfolded on Tuesday, Oct. 31, as the yacht, part of a touring group from a Polish company named Morskie Mile, navigated the challenging waters of the Strait of Gibraltar. This narrow passage connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, serving as the dividing line between the southern edge of Europe and the northern expanse of Africa.

The killer whales, commonly known as orcas, targeted the vessel, relentlessly striking its steering fin for nearly three-quarters of an hour. The assault resulted in severe damage and leakage, rendering the yacht beyond salvage. Morskie Mile, based in Warsaw and operating the ill-fated yacht, recounted the extraordinary event on Facebook, expressing the deep sentimental value the vessel held for the crew. Despite the involvement of a search-and-rescue team and assistance from the Moroccan Navy, the yacht sank near the entrance to the port of Tanger-Med, situated approximately 30 miles northeast of Tangier along the Strait of Gibraltar.

Remarkably, none of the crew members suffered harm during the ordeal, with the Polish tour agency reassuring the public that those aboard the sunken yacht were already safe in Spain when the Facebook post was made public. Morskie Mile lamented the loss of the vessel, emphasizing the enduring friendships formed during maritime adventures. Undeterred, the company affirmed its commitment to other scheduled cruises in the Canary Islands, assuring clients that future voyages would proceed as planned.

This incident, however, is not isolated. Reports of killer whale attacks, seemingly aimed at capsizing boats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal, have surged more than threefold in the past two years. Data from the research group GTOA, dedicated to studying orcas around Gibraltar, revealed a perplexing trend. Between July and November 2020, 52 maritime interactions with orcas were documented in the region. The frequency of these incidents escalated dramatically, with 197 interactions recorded in 2021 and a staggering 207 in 2022. The surge in interactions predominantly involved sailboats, leaving experts and researchers puzzled as they grapple with the mystery behind this unprecedented behavior. Andrew W. Trites, professor and director of Marine Mammal Research at the University of British Columbia, commented on the perplexity, stating, "Nobody knows why this is happening. It is a total mystery, unprecedented."

In a harrowing encounter this June, one of two sailing teams engaged in an international race around the globe faced a chilling confrontation with multiple orcas as they journeyed through the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Gibraltar. Participants in The Ocean Race, recounting the unnerving experience, disclosed that the orcas, while not inflicting damage on the boats or causing harm to the crews, engaged in aggressive behaviors. The sea creatures pressed against the vessels and, in a particularly alarming instance, forcefully collided with one of the boats. Witnesses reported that the orcas also exhibited curious behaviors by nudging and biting the rudders.

The incident serves as a stark reminder of the increasing frequency of such encounters between marine enthusiasts and orcas, a trend that has raised concerns and left experts grappling for explanations. Caitlin O'Kane and Kerry Breen contributed valuable insights to this report, shedding light on the complex dynamics of human-marine mammal interactions in the open seas.

In conclusion, the unsettling encounters between sailing teams and orcas, as highlighted by The Ocean Race incident in June, underscore the growing complexity of interactions between humans and marine life. While the orcas involved did not inflict direct harm on the crews or their vessels, their aggressive behaviors, including collisions and interactions with boat components, raise questions about the motivations behind such occurrences.

The escalating frequency of these events, coupled with the mysterious surge in orca interactions with sailboats in the vicinity of Gibraltar, poses a challenge for researchers and marine experts striving to comprehend and mitigate potential risks. As sailors navigate the vast expanses of the world's oceans, these encounters serve as a poignant reminder of the intricate balance that exists between humans and the diverse ecosystems they traverse. Caitlin O'Kane and Kerry Breen's insights contribute valuable perspectives to the ongoing dialogue surrounding these enigmatic marine interactions.


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