Dark shapes briefly appeared near the boat floating in the darkness off the coast of northern Spain, followed by a crash, followed by insulting Spanish.
Orcas had rammed the hull of the Spanish boat Urki I in the early hours of Monday as the two-man crew tried to deviate.
But the damage was done: the rudder was broken and Urki I had to be towed back to port by a Red Cross boat.
In the last two months, killer whales have damaged about a dozen pleasure boats off the Iberian Peninsula from the Strait of Gibraltar to the coast of Galicia, the northernmost point in Spain, puzzling marine biologists and sailors.
Were there any attacks? Or just friendly encounters from a highly playful mammal that has gone a little too far?
“Some people say they’re playful, or they can be, but they play rough,” said Pete Green, director of a yacht company whose boat was towed to the Galician port of La Coruna after hair damaged its rudder this month.
According to Urki I, one of the three ships was caught in collisions with killer whales, also known as killer whales, on Monday alone, according to the Spanish Ocean Search and Rescue Agency, which posted videos of the meetings on Twitter.
The hulls and rudders of all three boats were damaged and had to be towed to port.
The largest members of the dolphin family, killer whales are highly intelligent and social, with behaviors similar to those of their younger cousins. Mature killer whales can be more than 30 feet long and weigh six tons.
“They like to interact with moving objects, and being close to a vessel means riding the waves, so there’s speed, there’s interaction,” said Bruno Diaz Lopez, a Galicia-based biologist and director of the Research Institute for dolphins.
“For the calf, the learning process is very important, so the game is very important,” he added in a telephone interview on Friday as he sailed off the coast of northwestern Spain.
Although little is known about their exact migration route, killer whale pods migrate from the waters off the Strait of Gibraltar to Western Europe each summer to hunt tuna mangers, so their presence in the area is not uncommon, scientists say. However, the frequency of recent vessel accidents and the damage caused by them are unusual.
The Spanish Ministry of Ecology said it had registered 13 meetings since mid-August alone off the coast of Galicia.
The ministry said in an email that it believes the encounters come from a group of four to six young male killer whales, which approach mostly medium-sized vessels and are always close to shore.
Victoria Morris, a 23-year-old biologist, boarded a 46-meter sailboat in the Strait of Gibraltar in July when nine killer whales circled her ship. In an interview with The Guardian, she said she went to get things under deck because she thought the killer whales would capsize the boat. “The noise was really scary,” she said. “It was so loud we had to shout.”
Since then, nearly a dozen ships have encountered killer whales, and sailors have described how the interactions led them to think the mammals were trying to lift their boats.
Also in July, Nick Giles was sailing at night when a sudden explosion “like a hammer” shook his boat, he told The Guardian. He said his ship was pushed for 15 minutes without him being able to steer before the killer whales set sail.
Weeks later, members of the Spanish navy’s sailing crew saw the rudder of their vessel partially displaced by two killer whales in another tense encounter.
Since then, Salvamento Marítimo, the Spanish ocean search and rescue agency, has called on ships to stay away from killer whales.
While scientists and authorities in Spain continue to investigate the phenomenon, Mr Diaz Lopez said it could be someone else’s problem as killer whales migrate north to the Bay of Biscay off the coast of western France. “Let’s see if they do any damage to French waters soon,” he said.