Here’s what you can do to prevent orca ‘attacks’

by Lorraine Williamson
orca attacks

With the arrival of good weather, good seas and the desire to go sailing, a phenomenon that has caused a stir in recent years is also returning between the Gulf of Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. It is about the encounters between orcas and yachts, sailboats and other types of vessels. These ‘attacks’ by orcas often result in material damage and risks to the safety of humans and animals.

Last year, the Gladis orca and her group caused more than 50 incidents in the waters off Cádiz. This week it happened again. The Spanish government has made recommendations before the summer begins to avoid or minimise encounters between orcas and boats.

Chance of meeting highest from April to August

First of all, they recommend not sailing between the Gulf of Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar until August. The chances of encountering these cetaceans are highest from April to August.

If it does happen, it’s best not to stop, but to continue sailing towards the coast. You must not disturb, damage or kill the animals. This happened last year when the crew of a sailboat, which shot at a group of orcas.

Joining forces of ministries

To prevent more collisions, or mitigate risks, the Ministries of Ecological Transition and Transport have joined forces to draw up a list of recommendations for sailors. These apply all year round, but become more urgent between the months of April and August, when there is a “high probability” of encountering orcas and in the area between the Gulf of Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar.

Tips in case of orca ‘attacks’

In general, and to avoid a collision, the first piece of advice is not to sail in this area during these months. Those who do sail must do so “as close as possible” to the coast.

If there is any “interaction” with an orca, do not stop the boat – whether motorised or sailing – and sail towards the shore, in shallower waters.

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Also find a safe place on the boat, for more protection and to avoid injuries and falling off the ship. In addition, it is advisable not to attempt to deter cetaceans that could cause them “death, harm, disturbance or discomfort”.

Finally, the ministries recommend reporting the sighting or interaction to the nearest rescue coordination centre via VHF channel 16 or work channel. Provided it doesn’t pose a danger to the crew, they also recommend taking photos of the “involved” orca and sending them to the rescue centre for better recording and identification.

It’s not orca attacks, it’s play

These recommendations are the result of consultations between experts from the two ministries, who also concluded that interactions between orcas and boats are “not aggressive.”

Often it is about “play or socialisation behaviour”. Moreover, they consider it inappropriate and unfounded to speak of an “attack”. They therefore ask not to use this term.

Orcas in the area are protected

The population of orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Gulf of Cadiz is classified as vulnerable, and is protected. Therefore, it is forbidden to kill, capture, chase or disturb them.

The Government recalls that there is a law from 2007 for their protection that, among other protective measures, prohibits approaching them with a boat less than 60 metres away. Also, you should not feed them or throw food, drink, garbage, or other objects or substances at them. Making loud noises to try to attract or scare the orcas away, including emitting sounds underwater, is also not allowed.

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