Sunday, December 6, 2020

"Have rogue orcas really been attacking boats in the Atlantic?"

Probably the best general interest look at what's been going on in the eastern Atlantic.

From the BBC, November 16:

In the past six months there have been at least 40 reported incidents involving orcas off the coasts of Spain and Portugal. 

“I don’t frighten easily and this was terrifying,” skipper David Smith recalls of a late evening in October when his boat was approached by what looked at first like dolphins.

It quickly became apparent that they were much bigger than dolphins. And they were behaving very strangely.

“I looked at this animal - and it was jet black and brilliant white.”

For some two hours, a group of killer whales rammed the underside of the 45ft (13.7m) yacht he was sailing off the coast of Portugal. 

“It was continuous,” he says. “I think there were six or seven animals, but it seemed like the juvenile ones - the smaller ones - were most active. They seemed to be going for the rudder, the wheel would just start spinning really fast every time there was an impact.”

David’s job, since he “quit the rat race to sail” back in 2013, is to deliver new boats to where their owners want them moored. In this case, he was part of a team delivering a catamaran from France to Gibraltar.

An hour before sunset, one of the crew called out.

“He said: ‘It looks like we have some large dolphins,’” recalls David.

The only other encounter he had had with an orca was more than 20 years ago in a Vancouver aquarium, but he was in no doubt that he was looking at a group of killer whales.

“They were right at the back of the boat.”

A sense of curiosity and excitement very quickly turned to fear when one orca disappeared beneath the boat and there was a loud thumping sound from the hull.

The boat was 20 miles (32.2km) off Porto, at least three hours from the Portuguese coast. With their VHF radio out of range, they had to use the satellite phone to contact the coastguard, who advised them to switch off the motor and take down the sails. Be as “uninteresting” as possible, they said.

“So then we were just drifting. But while I was on the phone I could hear them ramming the boat. At one point, one of the larger animals came right to the stern and flipped onto its back – you could see its bright white underside.”

The repeated thudding, unsettling as it was, was not David’s biggest fear. As the wheel spun back and forth, he thought the animals might be about to dislodge the rudder stock - a steering column through the hull of the boat....