19th May 2024
Orca whales
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Spain warns smaller vessels of orca run-ins near Strait of Gibraltar over summer

Following the ramming of a small boat by an orca in the Strait of Gibraltar, authorities in Spain have issued recommendations that small vessels stick to the coastline in that region to avoid often-scary interactions with killer whales during summer months.

In the latest incident, two people aboard a 15-metre boat in Moroccan waters requested help from Spain’s maritime rescue service on Sunday, after reporting that an orca knocked the craft several times, damaging its rudder and causing a leak. The people were picked up by a passing oil tanker summoned by the rescuers, and their boat later sank.

Spain’s ministries for transport and the environment, along with its merchant marines, issued notices on Tuesday urging both sailing boats and small motorboats to beware of orcas between May and August in the area between the Strait of Gibraltar and the Gulf of Cadiz.

The Atlantic Orca Working Group, a team of Spanish and Portuguese marine life researchers who study killer whales near the Iberia Peninsula, says there were 197 such known interactions in 2021 and another 207 in 2022.

A pod of orcas even disrupted a sailing race last year, when a boat sailing from the Netherlands to Italy had a 15-minute encounter with the animals, prompting the crew to drop their craft’s sails and raise a clatter to fend them off.

There have been no reports of attacks against swimmers. The interactions on boats seem to stop once the vessel becomes immobilised.

The researchers say that the killer whales seem to be targeting boats in a wide arc covering the western coast of the Iberia Peninsula, from the waters near the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain’s northwestern Galicia.

The orcas off the Iberian coast average from five to 6½ metres in length, compared to orcas in Antarctica that reach nine metres.

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