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13th Jun 2023

Boat captain twice ambushed by killer whales says ‘they knew exactly what they’re doing’

Steve Hopkins

‘This time, they were quiet, and it didn’t take them that long to destroy both rudders’

The captain of a boat attacked twice by killer whales in the Strait of Gibraltar says they “knew exactly what they are doing” and appeared to have learned from the first incident.

Dan Kriz told Newsweek that his boat was first confronted by a pod of killer whales in 2020 while he and his crew were delivering a yacht through the Strait of Gibraltar, which runs between Spain and Morocco.

“I was surrounded with a pack of eight orcas, pushing the boat around for about an hour,” Kriz said.

The ship’s rudder was so damaged it had to be towed to the nearest marina.

In April it happened again, near the Canary Islands. But this time, the orcas seemed to know exactly what they were doing, Kriz explained.

Kriz told the publisher there isn’t “much one can do” when killer whales take an interest in your boat: “They are very powerful and smart.”

Video of the encounter shows orcas “biting off both rudders,” with one of the whales seen swimming around with a piece in its mouth.

Kriz told Newsweek that during the first encounter the crew could “hear them communicating under the boat”, but the second time they approached with stealth.

“They were quiet, and it didn’t take them that long to destroy both rudders. … Looks like they knew exactly what they are doing. They didn’t touch anything else.”

The attack lasted about 15 minutes, but when the crew started to head for Spain’s coast, they came back.

“Suddenly, one big adult orca started chasing us,” Kriz said.

“In a couple of minutes, she was under the boat, and that was when we realised there was still a little piece of fibreglass left and she wanted to finish the job,” Kriz said. “After that, we didn’t see them anymore.”

CBS News noted that Kriz is just one of several people to experience encounters with orcas off the coasts of Portugal and Spain in recent months.

In the past two years, orca research group GTOA found that incidents have more than tripled, with 52 interactions in 2020 and 207 in 2022.

Biologist and wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin previously told CBS News the behaviour “highlights the incredible intelligence” of the whales.

“What we’re seeing is adapted behaviour. We’re learning about how they actually learn from their environment and then take those skill sets and share them and teach them to other whales,” he said.

Corwin explained the CBS that there were two theories as to why killer whales were now attacking boats. One, is that it is a type of “play”, the other, that it is the result of a “negative experience”.

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