The Cruising Association is reminding sailors of its advice on orca encounters along the Iberian Peninsula, and the importance of reporting either an interaction or non-eventful passage
If you are sailing along the Atlantic coasts of France, Portugal and Spain and through the Gibraltar Strait, it’s crucial to be aware of the possibility and potential risks of orca encounters
Since 2020, a group of orca has been causing damage to yachts.
While the damage is mostly confined to rudders, four yachts have sunk due to severe hull damage around the rudder stock.
Fortunately, there have been no injuries reported from these encounters.
These orca are exclusively fish-eaters, posing no direct threat to humans but presenting significant risks to yachts and the risk of injury to their crews.
Skippers should be aware of the danger zones where orca interactions have occurred.
In 2023, this extended as far north as Brest in France and through the Bay of Biscay, Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar Straits, north Moroccan coast and along Spain’s Mediterranean coastline as far as Marbella.
Whilst most yachts do not encounter orca, it is paramount to be aware of the risks and know how you can minimise the likelihood of an interaction and reduce the damage if an interaction occurs.
Skippers and crews should familiarise themselves with passage planning and deterrent measures and be prepared for orca encounters.
Risk of orca encounters
In early 2023 the number of interactions escalated, and at present there is no reason to indicate that the situation will ease in 2024.
Most orca interactions occur between April to September, with reduced interactions during the winter months.
Past behaviour indicates orca will usually remain around the Gibraltar Straits during April to early July as the bluefin tuna exit the Mediterranean, before locating west and north.
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However, their movements are inherently unpredictable as can be seem from the monthly interatom maps dating back to 2020 at www.orcaiberica.org.
At times, the orca disperse and then simultaneously appear in disparate locations.
Given the unpredictability of orca movements, avoiding interactions is the primary advice.
When transiting these waters, if conditions permit, it is safer to stay in waters less than 20 meters deep and close to the shore, where few interactions have to date been reported.
Review the Safety Protocols and Deterrent Measures – www.theca.org.uk/orcas
Keep away from known orca locations by reviewing the latest GTOA interaction maps, monitor Facebook groups (such as Orca Attack Reports) and reporting apps (GT Orcas and Orcinus)
Explore actions taken by skippers to deter orca interactions by accessing the Cruising Association’s orca reporting database and interaction library at www.theca.org.uk/orcas/reports
Familiarise yourself with the radio channel (VHF Channel 16) and contact details for the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, Maritime Search and Rescue and Coastguard of the waters you are transiting.
Emergency Services Telephone: France 196 / Spain 900 202 202 / Portugal 112
Whether you experience an interaction or uneventful passage, submit a report to the CA’s report database at www.theca.org.uk/orcas/interaction-report-form and www.theca.org.uk/orcas/uneventful-passage-report-form.
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