Pod of killer whales attacks and sinks 50-foot yacht in Strait of Gibraltar

The Strait of Gibraltar connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

May 14, 2024, 4:06 PM

A pod of killer whales attacked and sunk a yacht in the Strait of Gibraltar, between Spain and Morocco, officials confirmed to ABC News.

Two people were on board the vessel when the incident occurred Sunday at 9 a.m. local time, according to Spain's maritime authority.

The nearly 50-foot yacht, named The Alboran Cognac, was 15 miles from Cabo Espartel in Morocco when an unknown number of orcas began ramming it.

The couple alerted Spanish authorities and a rescue team arrived to extricate them from the vessel an hour after the attack, though officials were unable to salvage the sinking boat.

There have been approximately 700 orca attacks since 2020, according to GT Orca Atlantica, a conservation group, and officials believe there are more than 37 orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar.

PHOTO: An Aerial view of Gibraltar rock seen from the neighbouring Spanish city of La Linea, Oct. 17, 2019.
An Aerial view of Gibraltar rock seen from the neighbouring Spanish city of La Linea, Oct. 17, 2019.
Javier Fergo/AP

The Strait of Gibraltar connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, separating Europe from Africa.

"During the summer and autumn of 2020, interaction events began to occur between several specimens of this species and vessels, mainly sailboats, both in the Strait of Gibraltar and in the waters of the Galician coast," according to Spanish government officials. "These interactions have ranged from persistent approaches to ships, to ramming the hull and rudder, causing various types of damage, which continue today."

PHOTO: Orca breaching off the San Juan Islands.
Orca breaching off the San Juan Islands.
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

It's unclear why?orcas?attack boats, though experts hypothesize the marine mammals could be targeting vessels for sport or they feel threatened.

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According to a study in Biological Conservation, a peer-reviewed journal, "sophisticated learning abilities" have been found to exist in orcas.

In June 2023, racing yachts in the Strait of Gibraltar had a close encounter with a pod of?orcas, race officials said at the time.

Crew members aboard a rival pair of 65-foot yachts were on the final leg of The Ocean Race, a global sailing competition, when they reported being intercepted by killer whales as their boats approached the Strait of Gibraltar.

No fatalities were reported in the incident, according to officials.

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