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Orcas have attacked and sunk another boat in Europe — and experts warn there could be more attacks soon

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Orcas that have been terrorizing boats in southwest Europe have just sank their fifth yacht in three years. And experts have warned that more attacks are likely in the coming months after the orcas unexpectedly switched up their behavior earlier this year.

On Sunday (May 12), an unknown number of orcas (Orcinus orca) attacked the 49-foot-long (15 meters) sailing yacht named the Alboran Cognac in the Strait of Gibraltar — a narrow body of water between southern Spain and North Africa that separates the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. During the attack, which began at around 9 a.m. local time, the killer whales repeatedly rammed the boat's hull and rudder, Reuters reported

The yacht's two-person crew radioed for help and was rescued by a passing oil tanker. But the vessel's hull sustained serious damage during the attack and the yacht began to take on water, which eventually caused it to sink, Reuters reported.

The attack was likely carried out by a growing number of individuals from the Iberian subpopulation of orcas — a group of around 40 killer whales that live off the coasts of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar — that have been attacking boats across their range since 2020. 

Most of the attacks occur between May and August each year in and around the Strait of Gibraltar. However, earlier this year, some of the highly social apex predators were spotted circling a boat in northern Spain, suggesting they have spread out much further and earlier than normal.

As a result, the Spanish authorities have warned recreational boaters to avoid sailing too far from the coast and to not stop their vessels if they are approached by orcas, according to a translated statement from Spain's Maritime Safety and Rescue Society.

Related: Orcas are learning terrifying new behaviors. Are they getting smarter?

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