In order to develop our commitment to environmental protection and education at Alcaidesa Marina, within the frame of our navigation awareness campaign since 2018, we would like to introduce to our customers and users a safety protocol to be applied when coming across orcas while at sea.
Thanks to Ecolocaliza ( www.ecolocaliza.com ), a local entity responsible for whale watching, environmental education, professional training and research, which is lead by two biologists with over 17 years of experience in the field of cetaceans in the bay of Algeciras and the eastern Strait of Gibraltar, as well as in raising awareness, we have learnt about the ATLANTIC ORCA WORKING GROUP ( www.orcaiberica.org ).
This working group has been created for research on orcas, which is a key task because the ones located at the Strait of Gibraltar are considered a distinctive sub-species, different from others at the north-eastern Atlantic.
Various interactions between 2020 and 2021
Since 2020, AOWG has been observing a recent disruptive behaviour of groups of young specimens of orcas approaching mainly sailboats, but also fishing boats, RHIBs and catamarans. There have been reports of orcas reaching for the boats, pushing and even swinging them, which in several cases resulted in damages to their sterns, primarily to their rudders.
These incidents are increasingly occurring and have been detected from the Strait of Gibraltar, Portugal and Galicia in 2020 and 2021. Hence, there is an urgent need for specific action based on international coordination among administrations, navigators and scientists to prevent people, orcas and boats from suffering and experiencing respectively injuries and damages in the future.
Iberian orcas are a protected species, legally described as “vulnerable” in the Spanish Royal Decree 139/2011 and as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A plan for their conservation was launched by the Spanish government in 2017: “Conservation Plan for Orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Gulf of Cadiz”.
Action protocol for sailors
AOWG has developed a protocol for action to be carried out by navigators in the event of any incidents involving these cetaceans while at sea. Experience shows that, by following these recommendations, orcas lose interest in boats.
What follows is a detailed exposition of the content of the protocol:
- If possible, depending on the sea conditions and your location, slow down, stop the automatic pilot and the engine, and do not change the direction of the rudder. In case of a sailboat, lower the sails.
- Call 112 / contact the radio channel 16 / contact the agent of the area (Tarifa 10, Tangier 69, Fisterra 16)
- Take and keep your hands off the steering wheel or tiller, and stay away from any part of the boat that can move or fall suddenly.
- If possible, turn off the sonar and keep the VHF and positioning elements on.
- If you have a phone camera or other video recording device, use it to identify the orcas by filming specifically their dorsal fins.
- When the steering is no longer compromised and the animals have moved away, make sure it is still functioning correctly.
- If it is damaged and prevents you from continuing to navigate, request a crane vessel.
- Make sure to report the incident to cetologists, experts on these animals, in order to assess it.
- Essential data to be collected by the authorities: Vessel name / time / contact (phone/email) – GPS location
Cetologists consider the possibility that adult specimens teach young ones to hunt tuna and use sailboats for their training. They base this hypothesis on the fact that they are focused on rudders, mobile and soft, as opposed to centreboards, rigid.
AOWG is keeping an eye on how these behaviours evolve, and reminds us to be aware of their endangered status and legal protection, and of the fact that we fish for their food and hinder their habitat with our boats. This is why our good practice will result in minimised risks for both navigators and orcas.