“The crew is safe, unharmed and sound,” the Polish tour company Morskie Mile wrote in a Facebook post describing the demise of its boat.
Since 2020, orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar and along the Iberian Peninsula have been bumping and biting boats — oftentimes, yachts — in dozens of incidents that have frightened mariners and confounded scientists.
A recent spate of killer whales sinking boats delighted online observers who anthropomorphize the marine mammals and hail them as working-class heroes.
Fishing vessels and motorboats have all had their run-ins with orcas in the region, though sailboats appear to be the most popular target, according to a 2022 study. The tour agency Morskie Mile did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
No one is quite sure what is prompting the orcas to go after vessels — whether the whales are simply being playful, or had a bad run-in with a boat in the past, prompting the aggressive behavior.
Some scientists say the incidents should not be called “attacks” at all, since the whale’s motives are unknown. Perpetuating the idea that whales are out for revenge, they fear, may lead to retaliation by boaters.
“We urge the media and public to avoid projecting narratives onto these animals,” a group of more than 30 scientists wrote in an open letter this summer. “In the absence of further evidence, people should not assume they understand the animals’ motivations.”
What we do know is that orcas are highly intelligent marine mammals that appear to learn from one another. Usually, that learned behavior is a hunting strategy, such as corralling and eating massive blue whales.
Other times, it is something stranger, such as when orcas near Seattle were observed “wearing” dead salmon as hats. Orcas, it turns out, can be victims of cultural fads, too.
One other thing is clear: Killer whales normally don’t hurt people. And humans are a bigger threat to them than they are to us.
Getting entangled in fishing gear or struck by speeding boats is a threat for all whales. With perhaps fewer than 40 individuals left, the orca population off the coasts of Spain, Portugal and Morocco is considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.