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What to do if you encounter orcas off the Iberian Coast

by Daria Blackwell 4 Jul 2021 14:44 UTC

Over the past year, numerous, often violent, interactions between whales and yachts have been reported along the coasts of Spain and Portugal right to the Straits of Gibraltar.

The reports began in the Spring of 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic surged. At first, it seemed like the whales were just playing with the boats. But soon it became evident that something else was going on. Whales in pods were ramming the rudders of yachts, sailboats in particular, and spinning the boats around by 180 degrees. In some cases, they were breaking or biting the rudder blades. The most recent account of an encounter with 20-30 whales was posted by a British crew just this week.

About 60 whales are resident in these waters, up from just 39 in 2011. They feed on tuna, but when the tuna population crashed, so did the orca. When tuna quotas were slashed, both species began to recover. The orca remains an endangered species. It is feared that these reports may cause people to retaliate, which could be devastating for the whales. It's important to note that no humans have been injured in these interactions.

Some of these animals have had previous encounters with vessels and bear scars from their encounters. This has caused speculation about the whales' behaviour. Some sailors even reported that the interactions seemed coordinated and orchestrated. They've recently started interacting with fishing vessels and have learned to 'steal' fish from long lines.

Scientists are now part of a group carrying out an informal investigation into the strange and potentially dangerous behaviour. They think the main culprits are just rambunctious young males playing games that are getting rougher and rougher. They have asked for anyone interacting with these orcas to take photos, particularly of their dorsal fins, so the whales can be identified and tracked.

If you find yourself in an encounter with whales, The Atlantic Orca Working Group has issued a safety profile for such interactions:

  1. Stop the boat.
  2. Contact the authorities.
  3. Take your hands off the wheel.
  4. Do not yell, touch or throw anything at them.
  5. Take photos or video recordings.
  6. After some time, check to see that the rudder moves properly.
  7. If there's a problem, request a tow.
  8. Report the name of the boat, date, time and position.

Please see the image for more details.

In addition, Orca Iberica has a map of interactions. Consider avoiding the areas where the interactions have been reported. If you do experience an encounter, please report it to the Atlantic Orca Working Group via email to .

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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