Scientists warn: killer whales are approaching Galicia

by Lorraine Williamson
Killer whale attack

O GROVE – Killer whales are expected to arrive off the coasts of Galicia within 48 hours, the Orcinus project, which is supported by Puertos de Galicia and monitors cetacean behaviour in the Iberian Peninsula, has reported. 

“They come from the Strait of Gibraltar, where they were feeding. We detected quite a large group following the major tuna beds and split up into several groups. One of them has passed along the Portuguese Algarve and is moving with a speed of about five knots to the north,” says Bruno Díaz in La Voz de Galicia. Díaz is the director of the Galician research institute Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute, located in O Grove. 

Also see: Sailboat sunk off Spanish coast after orca-attack 

Although the number of animals in the group is unknown, a typical group visiting the Galician coast consists of seven to ten individuals. “They will probably arrive in a day or two, move to the north coast of the region and then leave again. We have to be alert both during their arrival and their return in the coming days,” Díaz emphasises. 

Interactions between humans and killer whales 

Human-orca interactions in Galician waters have increased significantly in recent years. However, there is currently no manual for dealing with this situation. “The first thing that is recommended is to sail in shallow water and not on the open sea. Stopping the boat has also not had much effect in avoiding problems. In the end, it is best to sail away at full speed in the opposite direction as soon as they are observed,” says Díaz. 

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Current information from Orcinus 

The scientific method allows people to predict the future in many fields, from meteorology and astronomy to biology. In the same way, researchers can predict the behaviour of animals on land, in the air and the sea. Because almost everyone owns a mobile phone these days, the scientific community has cleverly used the simple exchange of information to turn a mobile device into a data collection station. This is called citizen science. 

The Orcinus project is a perfect example of this new form of scientific collaboration. This application has been developed to monitor the behaviour of killer whales that reach the Galician coast. 

“The original idea was to create a tool to help sailors with the recent problem of interacting with killer whales. We thought that an application would be the ideal solution to provide people with information at any time. At the same time, we collect valuable data that helps us help better understand the behaviour of these cetaceans,” says Díaz, who helped design the app. 

App works simply 

The application, which currently has more than 2,000 users from more than 40 different countries, works simply. When someone on board a ship spots a group of killer whales, that person activates the application and writes down the coordinates. In this way, the routes of the killer whales can be tracked and an estimate can be made of the time it will take for them to reach the region of Galicia. 

Also see: Killer whales attack two sailboats off Gibraltar during Ocean Race 

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