The crew of the Ocean Race’s Team JAJO endured several heart-stopping minutes on their approach to the Strait of Gibraltar on Thursday when their boat came under attack from a pod of orcas.
Video footage shows the orcas, also known as killer whales, circling the Dutch yacht before accelerating toward it, ramming into it and biting the rudders. The crew banged on the hull of the ship in an attempt to drive the orcas off.
“This was a scary moment,” Team JAJO skipper Jelmer van Beek said. “Three orcas came straight at us and started hitting the rudders. Impressive to see the orcas, beautiful animals, but also a dangerous moment for us as a team.
“We took down the sails and slowed down the boat as quickly as possible, and luckily after a few attacks, they went away.”
The Mirpuri/Trifork Racing Team also reported a run-in with orcas, organizers said, adding that there were no injuries or damage to either boat.
Authorities have noted a steady increase in interactions between orcas and vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar and Portugal, with more than 20 incidents in May alone. In some cases, boats have been significantly damaged, at least three to the point of sinking, organizers said, as the behavior appears to be spreading among different killer whale family groups.
Earlier this week, an orca repeatedly rammed into a yacht in the North Sea off Shetland, in the first such incident in northern waters.
The Ocean Race is a six-month, 32,000-nautical mile (37,000-mile) competition that sends crews around the world. The 11th Hour Racing Team out of the United States holds a narrow lead entering the final leg, with an in-port race July 1 serving as the grand finale.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Orcas attack boat during around-the-world Ocean Race