Gang of Killer Whales Repeatedly Ram Boat in 'Terrifying Ordeal' Lasting Two Hours

A British boatsman has recounted his "terrifying ordeal" during which a pod of "six or seven" orcas—commonly known as killer whales—rammed the 45-foot-long boat he was sailing in.

The strange encounter, which lasted for around two hours, occurred around 20 miles off the coast of Portugal in October, the BBC reported. The yachtsman, David Smith, was on a job at the time, transporting a boat from France to Gibraltar.

"I don't frighten easily and this was terrifying," Smith told the BBC, recalling the incident.

Initially, Smith and his crew thought the approaching animals were dolphins. But it quickly became apparent that it was a pod of orcas—and they were acting very strangely. The orcas began to ram the underside of the boat and continued for around two hours.

"It was continuous," he said. "I think there were six or seven animals, but it seemed like the juvenile ones—the smaller ones—were most active. They seemed to be going for the rudder, the wheel would just start spinning really fast every time there was an impact."

Using a satellite phone, the crew alerted the Portuguese coastguard of the situation, who advised the crew to turn off their motor and take down the sail in order to be as "uninteresting" as possible.

"So then we were just drifting. But while I was on the phone I could hear them ramming the boat. At one point, one of the larger animals came right to the stern and flipped onto its back – you could see its bright white underside," Smith said.

The boatsman's greatest concern at the time was that the orcas could dislodge a part of the boat known as the rudder stock.

"If that fractures, you're really in trouble," Smith said. "I was definitely preparing to ask the Portuguese coastguard to send a helicopter to get us off."

Eventually, after a period of around two hours, the orcas left unexpectedly. "They came to us, not the other way around," Smith said.

This incident is one of at least 40 similar, mysterious encounters between orcas and boats that have been reported off the coasts of Portugal and Spain in the past six months.

Marine scientists are still trying to unravel what may be causing the orcas to consistently target boats in such a way—a behavior that has only been reported a handful of times before the recent spate of encounters.

Scientists have found that three young orcas—known collectively as the Gladises—may be involved in many of the recent incidents.

Orcas are highly complex, intelligent and social animals, so trying to understand their behavior is a difficult task. Some scientists have speculated that the ramming of boats may be a form of play, rather than deliberate attempts to harm people or damage boats. However, more research is needed to truly understand this strange behavior.

Stock image showing a pod of orcas. At least 40 mysterious encounters between orcas and boats have been reported off the coasts of Portugal and Spain in the past six months. iStock