JUST when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… a vengeful killer whale is on the rampage and even 'teaching' pals how to sink boats.
The majestic beast, named White Gladis, has been terrorising sailors around the coast of Gibraltar over the past three years, with the latest attack seeing a tourist boat rammed for an hour last week.
Scientists fear a "critical moment of agony" such as a collision may have sparked her aggression towards boats, and – while there is no definitive evidence – speculate she may now be spurring fellow killer whales on to target vessels.
These attacks, which range from orcas simply approaching boats to actively interfering with them, are said to have begun in 2020 around the Strait of Gibraltar – also known as Orca Alley.
Authorities noticed a steady uptick in incidents and restricted boats from sailing from the tip of Spain due to a staggering 29 reported orca attacks in four months.
The huge animals can measure 20 to 26 feet long, meaning they have been able to inflict thousands of pounds of damage on boats and even sink them altogether.
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'She was supervising attack'
Earlier this month, one British couple, Janet Morris, 58, and Stephen Bidwell, 58, from Cambridge, were involved in a whale attack that lasted for a whole hour.
On May 2, around six orcas reportedly rammed the hull of the Bavaria 46 cruiser yacht they were travelling on, on the Strait of Gibraltar.
Janet and Stephen were stunned when they were alerted with the cry of “orcas!”
Stephen told The Telegraph: “It was an experience I will never forget.
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“I kept reminding myself we had a 22-ton boat made of steel, but seeing three of them coming at once, quickly and at pace with their fins out of the water was daunting.”
Janet added: “We were sitting ducks.”
“A clearly larger matriarch was definitely around and was almost supervising,” Stephen added, furthering speculation that it was White Gladis.
The captain of the ship, Greg Blackburn, from Leeds, dropped the mainsail to make the boat feel “as boring as possible”.
The group of whales and their gang leader eventually lost interest – after causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.
Whales torpedoed boats
It is far from the first time White Gladis has been accused of wreaking havoc on boats along the Strait of Gibraltar.
In November last year, a vessel off the coast of Viana do Castelo, Portugal, came under attack from orcas and cracked its hull, causing it to plunge beneath the water.
And just two days later, a third boat was dragged into the water after its rudder was knocked off near the Spanish coast.
Captain Werner Schaufelberger told German sailing publication Yacht: “The little ones shook the rudder at the back while the big one repeatedly backed up and rammed the ship with full force from the side.
“The two little orcas observed the bigger one's technique and – with a slight run-up – they, too, slammed into the boat.”
Captain Schaufelberger and his crew were rescued from the damaged boat but the vessel eventually sank at the port of Barbate.
Wave of destruction
The whale attacks have reportedly been going on since May 2020.
In September of that year, after 29 orca attacks were reported, Spanish authorities banned boats from setting sail from the country's northwestern tip.
Another 16 incidents had been reported by November 2020, of mostly young orcas interfering with boats, in many cases damaging the rudders.
Victoria Morris experienced an attack on the 46ft boat she was on on 29 July, 2020, when nine killer whales surrounded the vessel.
They rammed the hull for more than an hour, spun the boat 180 degrees, disabling the autohelm and engine, and broke the rudder.
She told the Guardian: “The noise was really scary. They were ramming the keel, there was this horrible echo, I thought they could capsize the boat.
"And this deafening noise as they communicated, whistling to each other. It was so loud that we had to shout.”
She added it felt “totally orchestrated”.
'Payback' on humans
British sailor Alan Bruce, along with Frenchman Stephen Peare, had a terrifying encounter with a pod of killer whales in August 2021, when they surrounded his 44ft sailing yacht and tried to capsize it "so they could eat him".
Alan was terrified when the orcas- an 18ft male, a female and their two calves – began ramming at the boat, trying to throw them off.
The attack went on for 90 minutes, and Alan claims they deliberately broke the rudder, as "payback" for humans overfishing.
He told the Daily Mail: "We went down below deck because when we looked over the side at them they were eyeballing us for food.
"We could feel the force of these creatures pushing the sides of the boat and there was nothing we could do – it was a 10 tonne boat and they were pushing it sideways.
"They are very intelligent animals and they were trying to get at the rudder to disable the boat. I've read reports of orcas attacking boats and they always go for the rudders."
Luckily, the two men were eventually left alone by the pod, and they managed to get back to a port 10 miles away.
"When we arrived we had to open a bottle of whiskey just to calm the nerves," he added.
After Alan stopped for a few days to repair his boat, he noticed orca attacks were becoming a "daily occurrence," with three other vessels rescued by lifeboat crews.
He said: "The emergency crews here are saying it's happening every day – at least two or three times daily.
"I think it's all to do with global warming and over-fishing. We've been over-fishing their waters and now it's payback time."
Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and member of the Atlantic Orca working group believes a “critical moment of agony” made White Gladis aggressive towards boats.
“That traumatised orca is the one that started this behaviour of physical contact with the boat,” he said, speaking to LiveScience.
Orcas are well known for being sociable creatures and can therefore learn easily from one another.
Sir David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet II captured footage of orcas working together to cause waves to knock seals off icebergs and into the water.
And Alfredo believes White Gladis is now teaching her vengeful tactics to the other orcas, allowing them to be copied.
However, other scientists aren’t convinced, suggesting the attacks may be due to the highly intelligent orcas becoming territorial or simply wanting to play.
David Lusseau, professor of marine sustainability at the Technical University of Denmark, told Newsweek: "Local scientists who have worked with killer whales in this region for more than two decades have had closer looks at incidents, and so far I think it is fair to say that we do not know why these accidents and attacks are happening.
"The individual whales seem to engage in the same pattern of attack, focusing on the rudder which can lead to the vessels being immobilised and needing rescue or to tragic situations."
He continued: "[It seems to be] a small number of whales targeting boats in a small coastal region where they live. Their attack pattern and their targets seem to be consistent across accidents. We don't know why they are doing this.
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"If this is a game, it is not a trivial one as given the reported force of the attacks and some reported injuries on the whales, these attacks require dedicated and sustained effort which can place the whales in danger.
"We have no evidence that this is reprisal; the absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence though."
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