OrcasFile image courtesy Salvamento Maritimo

Spain - Sailboat Suffers a Damaged Rudder and a Water Leak in Orca Attack

Orcas have developed a habit of playing with sailboats along the coast of Spain, to the annoyance of the European yachting community. Sometimes the encounter is remarkable but harmless; sometimes it results in real damage, as it did for the German-flagged sailboat Meu off the coast of Cape Touriñán last week.

While the Meu was under way about four miles off Cape Touriñán, the 16-meter sailing yacht encountered a group of orcas. The killer whales rammed the boat's rudder, as is common in this region, but they also showed an interest in hitting its daggerboard, the crew told La Voz de Galicia.

The run-in left the rudder broken and the vessel leaking. The five-member crew called for help from Spanish lifesaving service Salvamento Maritimo, which helped provide a tow to a nearby seaport. No injuries were reported, and the vessel is awaiting repairs.

Dozens of orca interactions (of varying severity) are reported around the coast of Spain every month, including nearly 20 that have occurred off the northwestern coast since mid-August. That number includes two back-to-back attacks in the Bay of Biscay, far further to the east than previous incidents.

The frequency of the interactions has increased every year since the first incidents were reported in 2020, and some of the more recent run-ins have ended in sinkings. The attacks have a specific pattern: the orcas always target the rudder, and they bump it to swing the boat through a wide arc. Not all attacks end in damage, and of those that do, a rudder failure is almost always the outcome.

The vessels targeted are always sailboats of about 15 meters or less, including monohulls and multihulls. Local fishermen report that diesel-engined workboats - with smaller, differently-shaped rudders - are always left alone, even though the orcas will come within a few yards to chase fish.

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