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New acoustic device to deter orcas to be tested in Portuguese waters

by Daria Blackwell 12 Nov 2023 11:49 UTC
Orcas off the Iberian peninsula © Daria Blackwell

Starting in October, if the orcas are present, a device already tested in fishing vessels in Norway, will begin sea trials on sailboats in Portugal, where orcas have been "playing" with sailboats.

For years now, the mostly juvenile orcas have been interacting with sailboats along the Iberian peninsula, ramming, pushing and pivoting vessels -- and in many instances causing damage to rudders.

Portuguese and Spanish scientists have been working with government bodies and the Cruising Association (CA) to study and document the orca interactions. The Portuguese Navy, the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) and the ANC have held meetings to try to find a solution to the interactions between orcas and sailboats - still without explanation - and which have already led to the sinking of three vessels.

The new acoustic device has been created by the Edinburgh-based GenusWave. The Targeted Acoustic Startle Technology (TAST) is designed to trigger the instinctive startle reflex most animals have when they hear a particular sound. This reflex induces an involuntary flight response governed by the autonomic nervous system. It compels targeted animals to flee the area. This is a very different technology from older ADDs.

TAST was originally developed to deter seals from fishing nets and has been modified to work on sea lions and orcas. It does not harm the animals in any way, nor does it interfere with other wildlife in the vicinity.

Since 2020, more than 350 boats have suffered an interaction with this subpopulation of orca while sailing along the Iberian Peninsula; mostly the cetaceans bump or ram the hull and target the rudder. In 2022, almost 70% of reported interactions resulted in damage and 24% resulted in the boat's steering being disabled and requiring a tow into port from emergency services. Some sailors have opted to avoid these waters.

According to ICNF and GenusWave, if the orcas are still in the vicinity off the Portuguese coast it is anticipated sea trials will commence in mid-October. If the trials are able to proceed in the October timeframe, a call for action will be issued requesting skippers to contact ICNF/GenusWave to alert them if orcas are spotted.

Check the CA website for more information.

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

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