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Interactions with boats

©Manuel Esteve

It is undeniable that this population of orcas has been in the media lately, due to a strange and unique in the world fashion, that some juvenile specimens have adopted by interacting with boats, coming to break or deform the rudder, in the case of sailboats, and leaving it without steering and needing towing to a port for repair.

This behaviour started in 2020 with the first interaction resulting in damage to the vessel.  

From then until today, every late spring, summer, and autumn, hundreds of interactions have occurred, with varying outcome and intensity.

Today they are 14 individuals, those who engage in this type of behaviour.
The main vessels affected are sailboats, catamarans and very occasionally, tuna fishing boats, inflatable boats and zodiacs, (the latter are never damaged, and targeting the boats, knowing that they are empty)


Why do ineractions occur?

Do they practice hunting whales or tuna with the boat, teaching their young to hold the rudder as if it were the fin of their prey?

These orcas do not prey on whales, in addition, the orcas that do (in other parts of the world) attack them and try to drown them, instead of holding their flippers. It would not be the same technique.
They hunt tuna chasing it until it collapsesnot holding them by the fins.

Do they want to attack humans or eat us?

Orcas have no interest in humans, in fact they have come to interact with empty boats, focusing on the boat and its moving parts.

What would happen if I fell into the water?

We are not on the orca menu, and there are no intentional attacks on humans recorded in the wild.
In fact, these same orcas that interact, they have had divers next to them taking pictures and they barely reacted.
One of the interacting orcas was entangled years ago and a team of people who entered the water close to her, were holding her in order to release her. There was never a bad gesture from the side of the orca.

Do they do it for revenge after being injured?

Before 2020, when the interactions began, and the injuries were discovered, there was already a record of these same killer whales insistently approaching.
So it wouldn't be their initial reason at least.
If this is the case, they would avoid the boats not to suffer further damage.

Furthermore, if it was a defensive response, this behaviour would be entirely perpetrated by adults, in order to protect themselves and their young ones from a possible threat, but it is not the case.

There are only 2 adults interacting and they are not the first who started these reactions.

They are fed from sighting boats and now they beg for food?

It’s not just an outright lie, but it is also an illegal act.
The orcas always approached sighting boats
on their own to investigate. In addition, they already obtain food from the tuna boats, but not because they are fed, but because they take the tuna from the fishing line (very much against the will of the fishermen).

Does prohibiting orca sightings in the Strait of Gibraltar solve anything?

They do not direct their interactions to any vessel of these purposes, the interactions are focused on private boats.
Prohibiting their sighting will not prevent them from approaching sailboats in any area of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Do all the orcas in the population do it?

No, only 14 out of ~50 orcas that make up the population.

It is still a mystery, the answer may be very complex, or very simple.
More data is needed to understand what motivates them to interact with some vessels but not others, and what exactly they get out of it.

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IB30 Gades observing a boat ©Manuel Esteve

What to do in case of having an encounter of this type?

  1.  First, if possible, stop the boat, and move away from the steering wheel and the edge, because if the orca decides to rock the boat, it can be dangerous to be in that position.

  2. Call 112 to communicate your position and situation and stay calm, remember that the orca is not going after you.

  3.  Disconnect probe and other electronic devices.
    Except for VHF and those that indicate position.

  4. Take images (photograph, video) of the entire process if possible.
    The most valuable are underwater images.

  5. Send information and recorded material to the experts.

    *It has been verified that when paralyzing the boat,usually lose interest, re-interacting if the engine re-starts.

    For more information, the Grupo de Trabajo Orca Atlántica and Cruiser Association, collect data and details from affected vessels:
    Statistics and analysis on the pattern of attacks

It is totally forbidden to:
-Injure orcas with sharp objects (you could worsen his behavior that was never really aggressive).

-Throw explosives into the sea.

-Dump fuel and other chemicals into the sea.

- Throw objects into the sea
-Use of "pingers"; (in addition, its inefficiency has been demonstrated, since some ships that have been damaged, had "pingers")

The Iberian orca is considered Critically Endangered according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN )and the Agreement for the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Contiguous Atlantic (ACCOBAMS)

It is included in the category: "Vulnerable"; in the Spanish Catalog of Endangered Species.


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