Orcas in the Straights

Orcas in the Straights

Imagine you are sailing through the serene waters of the Straits of Gibraltar on your yacht. The sun is setting and casting hues across the ocean. Suddenly, the calm is broken by the powerful presence of orcas. Magnificent, yet formidable, they approach your vessel. Europa Marine Consultants reports on the recent unsettling event where nature’s awe-inspiring beauty met human vulnerability.

Last Sunday, a peaceful sail turned perilous for the crew of a 15-meter sailing yacht. As the vessel navigated through Moroccan waters in the Straits of Gibraltar, they were unexpectedly rammed repeatedly by a pod of orcas. The impact was so severe that the yacht’s hull and rudder were damaged, causing the yacht to start taking on water rapidly.

The crew sent out distress calls and were rescued by a nearby oil tanker who then took the shaken crew to Gibraltar. The crew of yacht did not require medical attention. However, their yacht was not so fortunate as it was left adrift and eventually sank.

This incident is not isolated. The Straits of Gibraltar have seen increasing numbers of orca interactions with yachts. Reports of these incidents conjure up Victorian images of whales attacking seafarers.

But, why is this happening?

Scientists suggest that the orcas might be drawn to the area by the abundance of tuna, especially between the months of April and August. Experts observing the orca interactions state the behaviour is likely playful and not aggressive. However playful or not, a multi-ton orca can cause significant damage to a yacht.

In response to these alarming encounters, the Government of Gibraltar has issued advice in the event of an orca interacting with a vessel within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) to ensure the safety of both humans and orcas.

  • Vessels should not stop but rather head to shallower waters.
  • Crew should not stand in areas of the vessel where they are likely to fall overboard.
  • Under no circumstances must any orca be harmed. Repelling techniques cannot be used. This would be in contravention of the Nature protection Act.
  • The encounter should be reported to Gibraltar VTS on channel 16.

Additionally, the Spanish Environment Ministry has cautioned all vessel owners to take extreme precautions in the area stretching from the Strait to the Gulf of Cadiz. The Spanish Environment Ministry also believes the behaviour is not aggressive, but playful and advises people to avoid the orcas, and to stay as close as possible to the coast.

Protecting these magnificent creatures while ensuring human safety is a delicate balance, one that requires respect and understanding from all. Therefore, let us navigate to keeping safe all who call the sea home because remember, the orcas are watching us.

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