Sailboats again aggressively treated by orcas in southern Spain

by Lorraine Williamson
aggressive orcas - stock image

BARBATE – Spanish Coast Guard personnel in Cádiz province had to rescue two sailboats off the coast of Barbate after they were attacked by aggressive orcas. A faulty rudder caused both ships to drift. 

Rescue sources reported that firstly, a 12-metre catamaran, made a call on Wednesday afternoon requesting to be towed to Barbate. Due to the problems with the rudder after the collision with the orcas, the vessel had drifted. 

Two boats in trouble 

The coordination centre in Tarifa mobilised the lifeboat Enif in the port of Barbate. He contacted a fishing boat that was in the same area as the catamaran to determine its exact location. Next, the Enif had to move to a second sailboat, called Sixties, which also needed help after interacting with orcas. 

Navigation ban 

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 a certain area. This 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. However, since late March 2021, these cetaceans have been involved in numerous interactions with small sailboats. Sometimes causing them to become out of control due to damage to the rudder. 

By that date, Coast Guard boats already had to tow recreational craft to ports on more than 30 occasions. This is in addition to another large number of boats affected by the orca encounters. 

Why are orcas aggressively attacking 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 animals – are retaliating after being repeatedly attacked by tuna fishermen, who hunt the same prey as theirs. 

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. 

Security protocol 

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. 

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