Reports of intentional collisions by Orcas (Killer Whales) with recreational craft have taken place during the summer months since 2020 along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. Orcas are a protected species under International, EU, Spanish and Portuguese law and as such it is illegal to take any action which may harm or disturb these marine mammals.
As wild animals, it is not possible for the RYA to provide advice that will fully mitigate the risks associated with Orca encounters. This is just one of the many risk factors that skippers must consider when planning passages, as they may affect your chosen route, safety protocols, time of departure or even the need for a particular journey.
May to mid-August - approaches to the Straits of Gibraltar and the Gulf of Cadiz
Mid-August to October - from Cape Trafalgar to Gallica and Cape Finisterre
Although frequency of incidents may change between areas during the spring and late summer there is still potential for incidents to occur anywhere along the western Iberian coast and either side of the Straits of Gibraltar. During 2022, interactions outside of these periods have also been recorded, though at lower frequencies, and some have taken place in the Bay of Biscay.
Typically, the incidents involve Orcas bumping and spinning boats for a prolonged period of between 45 and 90 minutes. Often this activity is accompanied by whales shaking and damaging rudders. The reason for this behaviour has not been determined.
As the skipper of a craft, you have the responsibility for the safety of your crew, protecting your vessel and adhering to wildlife protection legislation. You should consider carefully how to balance all these responsibilities before placing yourself, your craft and crew at risk.
If you find yourself in a situation where Orcas are near your boat, then follow the RYA advice to maintain safety whilst helping to prevent distress to the Orcas and damage to your craft.
Research the latest information on interactions and recommended mitigations, and decide if this influences your route, time of departure or safety protocols on board. Some useful links are provided below.
Various online resources, and some officials in Portugal, have stated that slow reversing could reduce the duration of encounters, but the data collected to date does not provide a statistical or scientific validation of the effectiveness of such action. This action would still be considered illegal in some states’ coastal waters.
The Local Safety Protocol, supplements guidance provided by the RYA for sailors departing the UK, can be found on Orca Iberia’s Atlantic Orca Working Group (GTOA) website where they provide further information on interactions, navigation restrictions, the latest science, and other background information.
The Cruising Association and the Atlantic Orca Working Group are collating information on both incidents and uneventful passages through the area inhabited by the Orcas. To learn more about this initiative, review previous reports, or to report your own experiences, visit the Cruising Association website.
The RYA is pleased to be working closely with the Cruising Association and others on this issue and is commissioning research on boat movements to supplement the information gathered to date, which will be used to inform future advice.