Blue sky, smooth ocean. The yacht has just passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and is heading towards Cadiz at an economical speed. The crew is having breakfast and enjoying the calm, warm weather.
Suddenly, a strong hit on the hull! Cups of coffee, cheese, butter, and ham fall from the table in the cockpit to the deck. But no one cares about the spoiled teak anymore. One more hit and another one! The yacht is listing and starting to sink into the water. And several huge fins appear around it. The yacht has already sunk to the deck. The crew is holding onto the mast, watching in horror as the huge predators circle around the yacht. Over the radio, they report that help is on the way and will arrive soon…
This is not a horror movie. This is reality. Just last year, there were more than 150 orcas attacks on sailing yachts in the Strait of Gibraltar. All of them, as a rule, ended with the crew and vessel being rescued, but several boats were sunk. It got to the point where the authorities in Spain decided to ban yachts under 15 meters from passing through the Strait of Gibraltar during the summer months.
Who is to blame for this?
Killer whales are animals, mammals. They are driven by instinct. What changed their behavior? Almost every yachtsman met killer whales while passing the Strait of Gibraltar. Usually, they are just well-fed, drifting a couple of meters from the side of the boat. Sometimes they go somewhere with a purpose. Sometimes you can see an epic battle between packs of orcas and flocks of dolphins in two hundred individuals.
And after the news of another fatal attack in mid-March, we decided to try to figure it out. As a result of the search, a report was found by Spanish scientists who had been investigating this issue for many years. This report contains not only the reasons but also recommendations for yachtsmen on how to avoid this horror.
So. To begin with, orcas live in packs. As a rule, there are about a dozen individuals in a group. Male, several females, and babies. In this, they differ from their younger brothers, dolphins, who live in huge flocks.
The main food for killer whales is tuna. Historically, for thousands of years, orcas, which control the hunting territory in the Strait of Gibraltar, attacked schools of tuna going to the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded them, driving them to the vast shoals near Barbate, which is located on the Spanish coast, where they ate with great pleasure.
According to scientists, the entire Strait of Gibraltar is controlled by only FIVE packs of killer whales. That is about fifty individuals. However, they rarely hunt directly in the strait. Their hunting territory starts from Tarife and extends approximately to Cadiz. That is, on the tuna migration path. There are no orcas off the coast of Morocco, as well as their food.
However, in recent years, Spanish fishermen have begun to use the latest, much more effective ways to catch tuna. And there was not enough food for orcas. This is what changed their behavior, according to scientists.
Why do they not attack the fishermen but choose yachts as their target? Scientists have answered this question as well. It turned out that, firstly, killer whales do not attack ships over 15 meters long. They do not attack multihulls. And they don’t attack ships that have propellers close to the rudder, not wanting to get hurt. And for all Spanish fishermen, the screw is either next to the rudder blade or right in it.
However, the most dangerous thing is when a predator bites not a rudder but a narrow fin-keel. In this case, it most often bites off the keel, and the yacht sinks. Yes – killer whales bite off, not break off.
So to prevent an attack? For starters, you should avoid passing through the strait in late spring, summer, and early autumn. This is the period of the maximum number of aggressive attacks. And even more so, it is not necessary during this period to pass the strait on a yacht less than 15 meters.
The most reasonable is to move along the Moroccan part of the strait, where orcas activity has never been recorded.
And here are the recommendations of scientists in case orcas have already approached the yacht. It is necessary to put the rudder in the diametrical plane, remove the sails, stop the engine, and hide in the cabin, trying not to make intense sounds. In this case, it is highly likely that the male will not give the order to attack a stationary vessel. There will be time – orcas do not attack immediately, they first conduct reconnaissance and make sure that the victim is defenseless.
Recall once again – only last year, more than 150 killer whale attacks on yachts at the exit from the strait to the Atlantic were recorded. Beware!