(LONDON) — Racing yachts had a close encounter with a pod of orcas near the Strait of Gibraltar on Thursday, race officials said.

Crew members aboard a rival pair of 65-foot yachts were on the final leg of The Ocean Race, an around-the-world sailing competition, when they reported being intercepted by killer whales as their boats approached the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, separating Europe from Africa.

One of the teams’ crew members filmed the interaction. The footage, released by The Ocean Race, shows the orcas approach Team JAJO’s yacht, then swim up alongside and underneath the vessel as the crew remains on board. The killer whales are also seen nudging the boat’s rudders.

“Three orcas came at us — straight at us — and started hitting the rudders,” Team JAJO skipper Jelmer van Beek said in the video, after the incident. “Impressive to see the orcas, first of all. Beautiful animal, but also 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,” he added. “But this was a scary moment.”

The Mirpuri/Trifork Racing Team also reported having an encounter with the same killer whale pod. Both teams subsequently contacted race control to confirm there had been no injuries among their crew and no damage to their boats, according to a press release from The Ocean Race.

“Fortunately for The Ocean Race boats today, the orca encounters were brief and relatively benign, although no doubt frightening,” race officials said in a statement Thursday.

It was the latest such episode reported between vessels and the orcas populating the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The behavior appears to have become a trend in recent months and has baffled researchers.

However, these incidents were first reported at least three years ago, according to the Atlantic Orca Working Group (GTOA), a team of Spanish and Portuguese marine scientists who study the so-called Iberian orcas. In 2020, GTOA recorded 52 such interactions, some of which resulted in damaged rudders. That number increased to 197 in 2021 and 207 in 2022.

Some researchers believe the recent spikes in aggression may have been started by a female orca named White Gladis. The killer whale matriarch apparently suffered a “critical moment of agony,” such as a boat collision, which inflicted trauma on the cetacean, triggering a behavioral switch that other orcas have learned to imitate.

Nevertheless, the majority of orca-sailor encounters have been harmless and no casualties appear to have been reported.

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