Killer Whales Behind Spanish Boat Attacks Identified by Scientists

The killer whales responsible for most of the recent attacks on boats off the Spanish coast have been identified by scientists. Researchers with the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals (CEMMA) said that three animals—nicknamed Gladis Black, Gladis White and Gladis Grey—were behind 61 percent of the attacks.

These killer whales, also known as orcas, had been observed in the Gibraltar Strait, where several of the attacks on boats took place, in recent years. The animals are juveniles, CEMMA said, and their mother was accompanying them.

Reports of boats being attacked by killer whales along the coast of Spain and Portugal date back to July. Over the last few months, there have been multiple reports of orca ramming boats over prolonged periods. One yacht owner told the BBC in September that his vessel was attacked for 45 minutes.

Later that month, Spain's Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (MITMA) banned vessels under 49 feet in length from sailing between Cabo Prioriño Grande and Punta de Estaca de Bares in northern Spain, because of the risks posed by the killer whales.

Scientists with CEMMA had previously said they thought three younger animals were behind the attacks, but had not identified them directly.

In a Facebook post, the organization has now pinpointed the three orcas by looking at injuries sustained to their bodies. CEMMA said it is common for killer whales in the Strait to get hurt, with most injuries caused by fishing equipment. Often the whales are caught by hooks while trying to get tuna.

As GLADIS, implicadas nas interaccións Ao longo das diferentes interaccións en Galicia observáronse entre 1 e 5...

Posted by CEMMAcetaceos on Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The organization also shared underwater photographs, taken by Rafael Fernández Caballero, of the whales when they entered the Strait.

CEMMA said more lesions had appeared on two of the whales between June 20 and August 3. Experts said understanding how these injuries had occurred could provide information about what prompted the whales to attack the boats.

AS GLADIS As tres candorcas máis actuantes nas interaccións con veleiros foron nomeadas polo Grupo de Traballo...

Posted by CEMMAcetaceos on Monday, October 5, 2020

In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais at the end of September, Alfredo López, a biology professor at CEMMA, said the animals being injured may have made them feel threatened by the boats. "It's not revenge," he is quoted as saying. "They're just acting out as a precautionary measure."

On October 1, Spanish officials widened the sailing ban for smaller vessels in northern Spain to stretch from Cape Finisterre to Punta de Estaca de Bares. Announcing the move, MITMA said: "Incidents with orcas are sporadic, but have not stopped since August 19." The ministry added that another attack had taken place just a day earlier and the ban was in place to help prevent further damage to boats, protect those on board and protect the killer whales themselves.

"After monitoring the incidents that have occurred to date, the episodes with orcas affect only medium-sized sailboats, with a length equal to or less than 15 meters; all the encounters took place between two and eight nautical miles from the coast and the sailing speed ranged between five and nine knots, either exclusively under sail or sail and motor," a MITMA statement said.

killer whale
MITMA photo showing killer whales. The three orcas behind the recent attacks on boats have been identified by scientists. MITMA