Orca encounters have become a growing problems along the Iberian Peninsula and now sailors are being asked to assist in research to understand their behaviour

A new online reporting platform to register orca encounters and sightings along the Iberian Peninsula has been launched by the Cruising Association (CA) and Groupo Trabajo Orca Atlantica, which is studying the behaviour of the cetaceans.

Since 2020, there has been a rise in the number of orcas interacting with and often damaging small yachts and other vessels.

The orcas touch, push and even pivot boats, which in some cases has resulted in damage at the stern, mainly to rudders.

Three young orca with their fins on the surface of the water

Orcas are a protected species in Spanish waters. Credit: Getty

Interactions have been reported to last up to two hours.

The current advice includes depowering and stopping the vessel, leaving the wheel/tiller free to turn and keeping a low profile on deck to make the interaction less interesting to the orcas.

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Spain’s Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge has confirmed it is illegal to harm, annoy or disturb cetaceans in territorial waters, and have stated that ‘using an engine and propeller to reverse a boat towards an orca, the use of “noise makers”, “pingers”, Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADD) attached to boats, and throwing of pyrotechnics, flares, etc at approaching whales’, are forbidden by Spanish law.

Marine scientists at Grupo Trabajo Orca Atlantica do not know exactly why this vulnerable subpopulation of orcas are interacting with vessels, and have now turned to the cruising community for help.

To assist with research, the CA has launched an online reporting form in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish with multiple fields to identify the circumstances and environment when an orca encounter does or does not occur.

For the project to succeed, the CA would like to receive reports of both interactions with orcas and uneventful passages to create a meaningful comparison.

The uneventful passage research will only cover certain passages and certain times:

  • June – between Cadiz and Tarifa
  • July and August – between Cabo Trafalgar and Tarifa
  • September – between Peniche and Faro
  • October – between La Coruna and Lisbon

All sailors, regardless if they are CA members or not, are being asked to submit information.

For further details of the research, visit www.theca.org.uk/orcas

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