New recommendations released concerning the orca population that has been damaging boats

May 28, 2024

Since 2021, interactions with a particular populations of orcas (also known as killer whales) have resulted in the sinking of six vessels (four yachts and two fishing boats). These interactions appear to be solely attributable to the small Iberian population of killer whales, which is found in Spanish, Portuguese, French and Moroccan waters.

A new report from a workshop dedicated to considering this issue and held in Madrid, Spain, on 6– 8 February 2024, has just been released. The workshop was sponsored by the Spanish and Portuguese governments with local and international experts attending.

The workshop has made a very clear recommendation that mariners should only use methods which have no deleterious impacts on the whales or the environment. In the event of an encounter, it advised that the mariners concerned should move away from the whales as quickly as possible, at least 2 to 3km from the area in which the whales were encountered, either toward the coast (in the Gulf of Cádiz and Strait of Gibraltar) or toward an area where rescue can be expedited. The report notes that “moving away is not guaranteed to end the interaction or prevent damage, but may reduce the latter’s likelihood”. Mariners were also advised to alert the authorities as soon as an encounter begins, which should help with response time for a rescue if needed.

The Iberian killer whales are Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and deterrence measures that might cause immediate harm or affect long-term survival or reproduction are illegal under European Union and national laws. Some mariners have applied harmful measures (such as fire crackers and electrocution) and the whales continue the interactions. Thus, the workshop concludes that such methods are not only ineffective but may be reinforcing the behaviour and increasing the severity of damage to vessels.

The workshop also called for increased international collaboration and for consistency in advice issued and reporting systems.  It also called on the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to establish a Conservation Management Plan for this population. This is one of the conservation tools used by the IWC to bring countries together to expedite conservation measures. This orca population only numbers less than 40 individuals.

OceanCare has previously spoken out on this issue and asked for people not to view the orcas as attacking or seeking revenge (despite misleading reports in some media about this) and to not to seek to harm them. Orcas have never directly attacked anyone in the wild. People are not prey for them and this behaviour, which is limited to this one small population, is directed at the vessels.

More Information

OceanCare’s detailed perspective on Iberian Orcas.

The workshop report is available here.