Case Study: orca attack or response??

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 29 Oct 1995 05:25:03

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Date: Fri, 27 Oct 1995 11:22:23 -0500 (EST)
From: Michael Williamson <williams@WHALE.SIMMONS.EDU>
Subject: Case Study: orca attack or response??
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Date: Fri, 27 Oct 1995 14:04:56 +0100
From: Les Weatheritt <>
Subject: orca
Last winter I sailed my yacht from England to Trinidad via the Atlantic
islands and Senegal.  We had lots of dolphins sightings and a couple of
whale sightings. You might be interested in the sighting of killer whales.
It was early December.  We were on passage between the Canaries and Dakar
and about 300 miles north west-ish of Cape Verde and travelling south.
Around noon a large black and white striped whale surfaced within about 30
feet of our stern and without taking much notice of us headed off towards
the south west.  We had a very good view of its markings and watched it
re-surface further off and then tried to follow.  Much further off to the
south west we saw two more black and white whales surfacing and then a few
minutes later we saw all three come tails up vertically and make what seemed
like a serious dive.  We didn't see them again.
Our handbook on whales and dolphins showed that the only whales like this
were killer whales.
A few days later we arrived in Dakar, Senegal and in yarning with the French
sailors at the local yacht club we mentioned this sighting of the orcas. One
of the French boats had been coming that way a year earlier and when in
about the same place had hit something or been hit very hard.  The boat was
then hit repeatedly and they could see that they were being attacked by
black & white whales.  The attack was severe and the boat, which was a 35 ft
timber yacht, lost its rudder and skeg, was disabled and had to be towed
into Dakar.  This degree of damage could easily have been just a little more
severe, and they would have sunk.  They spent several months ashore at Dakar
making repairs.  The skipper said that shortly after the attack a whale
surfaced and they saw that it was badly cut and bleeding.  They do not know
whether they came up on the whale(s) while sleeping and accidently hit it
(them), which then provoked the attack; or whether they just met some bad
tempered orcas out there.  They told us that other, mainly French yachts,
coming down to Senegla also sighted orcas in this spot.
I shall be sailing around the Caribbean this winter and may be coming back
across the Atlantic next summer.  I would be interested in any advise you
have on whale watching and would happily look out for anything which would
help any current researches.