A killer whale named Gladis is attacking boats around Spain and Portugal with a photographer being left “in awe” after he was on board one of them.
Stephen Bidwell and his wife Janet Morris were sailing in the Strait of Gibraltar when they heard the cry “Orcas!”
“It’s an experience I will never forget,” Bidwell tells the Telegraph. “I kept reminding myself we had a 22-ton boat made of steel, but seeing three of them coming at once, quickly and at pace with their fins out of the water was daunting.”
The pod of orcas attacked Bidwell’s boat for about an hour and alarmingly it is one of several similar attacks in the area which is being pinned on one vengeful orca named Gladis.
Scientists believe the whale’s aggression toward boats was sparked by a “critical moment of agony” in which Gladis collided with a vessel or was caught in illegal fishing nets.
“That traumatized orca is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat,” says Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal and representative of the Atlantic Orca working group
Matriarchal Gladis is now showing other orcas how to hunt boats with a French vessel sinking off the port of Viana do Castelo after the cetaceans cracked its hull and it took on water.
López adds that Gladis’s behavior was not revenge but a behavior learned “as a reaction and precaution”, which the other whales were imitating.
Bidwell and his wife were targeted by the orcas on May 2, but just yesterday another incident happened near Gibraltar where orcas damaged a yacht causing a crew of four to contact Spanish authorities for help.
The maritime rescue service deployed a rapid-response vessel and a helicopter carrying a bilge pump to assist the 66 foot (20-meter) vessel that was sailing under a British flag.
According to the research group GTOA, which tracks populations of the Iberian orca sub-species, the incident follows at least 20 interactions this month alone in the Strait of Gibraltar between small vessels and the highly social apex predators. In 2022, there were 207 reported interactions, GTOA data showed.