ISLA CRISTINA – On Wednesday evening, a sailboat off the coast of the Algarve in Portugal was attacked by a group of orcas. The boat then drifted due to damage and ended up off the southern Spanish coast.
Arriving there, the boat was eventually towed to the nearby Isla Cristina marina. Moreover, the sailboat had drifted due to the damage the animals had caused to the rudder and hull. The man, of Norwegian nationality was only one person on the sailboat. He had been filming a group of four orcas with his mobile phone until it fell out of his hands. The blow received from the boom after the killer whales attacked his boat was so hard, he lost his balance.
A Coast Guard and Red Cross rescue vessel towed the sailboat with the captain, to the port of Isla Cristina.
The attack on the boat was carried out by four orcas. The three adults and a calf struck the hull and broke the rudder blade. The events took place off the coast of Tavira, in Portugal. However, while drifting, the boat ended up in the waters of Huelva.
“No cause for alarm”
The head of the Maritime Rescue and Red Cross base on Isla Cristina, Manuel Díaz, pointed out in Huelvainformacion.es that the events “should not be a cause for alarm”, as this was not a usual “interaction” with these animals
The incident occurred three kilometres off the coast of Tavira. The orcas could be closer to shore than usual because an ‘almadraba’ occurred there. That is a large-scale tuna catch carried out by several fishing boats together. Orcas are smart animals and come to such events to grab some of their favourite food.
According to Díaz, the Norwegian owner of the boat was “passing through” via Portugal “on the way to Italy”. When rescued, the man was “nervous” at being far from land and alone on the unmanageable ship.
Last summer, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility, and Urban Agenda (Mitma) imposed a navigation restriction on ships up to 15 metres in length. These ships were then no longer able to sail in an area that stretched between Punta Paloma near Tarifa and Barbate further north on the same coast and between 2 and 9 miles from the coast.
That navigation restriction, as the ministry reported at the time, was intended to prevent incidents with orcas. Since late March 2021, these cetaceans have been involved in numerous interactions with small sailboats. Moreover, some of these incidents caused the boats to become out of control due to damage to the rudder.
By that date, Coast Guard boats had already had to tow recreational craft to ports on more than 30 occasions, in addition to another large number of boats affected by the orca encounters.
Why do killer whales attack boats?
Scientists are puzzled as to why the killer whales attack boats. The reasons for the animals can only be guessed at, but the number of attacks is so great that it can hardly be a matter of chance. Some experts suspect that the killer whales — highly intelligent and normally peaceful animals — are retaliating after being repeatedly attacked by tuna fishermen, who hunt the same prey as them.
Others suspect that once they got used to the relative calm due to the corona measures for much of 2020, the orcas could no longer cope with the renewed crowds and have taken it out on the boats.
Last year Orca Ibérica established a safety protocol for boats when they are harassed by orcas. They have to switch off the engine, lower the sails, switch off the autopilot, let go of the rudder and immediately warn the authorities. Under no circumstances may people on board shout or perform actions to scare the orcas away. If possible, they should take pictures or film the animals. This way the orcas can be identified afterward