Killer whale attacks on boats. What to do, even in the Mediterranean

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Killer whales of pleasure boats becomes an official case and also laps the Mediterranean. Two major boating associations, the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and the Cruising Association have officially issued a statement urging boaters planning cruises in waters where orcas are present to inquire about the protocols provided by the RYA and CA and observe the necessary precautions as the summer season approaches.

Where there is danger of finding killer whales

The areas affected are, for now, Bay of Biscay, Iberian Peninsula and Strait of Gibraltar, northern coast of Morocco, Mediterranean coast of Spain up to Marbella.

The alarm raised is real, in the last year killer whales have sunk two boats and caused damage to at least a dozen boats, as many as 28 interactions with killer whales in Spain in 2023. Sensational case of as many as three boats attacked while transferring to the Copa del Rey regatta in Palma de Mallorca.

Orcas are not always recognized by the naked eye; they may look like harmless cetaceans. If you want to understand how to recognize them, click here.

The dangerous period, there is the APP

Why all this alarm? All predictions and statistics on killer whale movements have been skipped over the past two years. The official figure was that from April to July killer whales were positioned in the Gibraltar Channel area to intercept bluefin tuna coming out of the Mediterranean. But for the past two years, sightings (and attacks) have been prolonged outside this period and in other areas, including in the Mediterranean.

Two APPs, GT Orcas and Orcinus, are active, providing up-to-date information on the likelihood of orca encounters in the various navigation areas.

What attracts killer whales to boats

It was initially thought that antifouling color and echo sounder signals were triggers for killer whale aggression toward boats. But scholars have refuted these theories. In short, it is not known why they attack boats and what irritates them.

orche attack gs 44

RYA and CCA experts grope in the dark, here are their assumptions: “Despite the damage to the boats, we believe that classifying the interactions as ‘attacks’ is misleading. Rarely do attacked boats show signs of teeth, the predominant damage to rudders and keels is from blows or spurs with the head or body. Killer whales are not tearing up rudders, as they would if it were hunting behavior. Although the behavior may be frightening (and costly) from a human perspective, from the point of view of killer whales it seems to be somewhat rewarding.”

Useful tips for not getting attacked

Here is what experts advise to try to avoid attacks from killer whales: “Once the interaction starts, the advice is to stop the boat, because that calms them down. There are three options. One is to stay and do nothing because maybe you can’t do anything else-for example, with big waves, etc. – when that is your only choice.

Another option is to reverse course, but it is possible to do so only under certain circumstances. There is evidence that if you back up they lose interest and this minimizes or reduces the damage. But then a third option is proposed: if the boat is fast enough and you have a decent engine, you’d better head for shallow water as quickly as possible.”

They continue, “The final data say that to avoid an interaction the boat must be in shallow water-less than 20 meters-and close to shore, less than two miles away. Or very far away, in very deep water, many miles away.

In any other condition you are at risk.”

Killer whales in the Mediterranean: there are

Killer whales have arrived in the Mediterranean. Official surveys report a stable presence along the coasts of Mediterranean Spain as far as Marbella. But the news in recent years tells us of orca presences in our Mediterranean as well. Such as the killer whales in port in Genoa and the Strait of Messina in 2019 or, even, off the coast of Ancona in 2023.

Clearly, scientific certainties about the presence of orcas in the Mediterranean that were considered sporadic have also blown up, as researcher Sabina Airoldi told the Giornale della Vela years ago:” The orca is considered an “occasional” species in our seas, on par with humpback whales and kogia (similar to the sperm whale, but smaller – ed.) and its presence has been documented since historical times, although in Italian waters there are fewer than 10 certain cases and date back to the 1970s-1980s (the last one in Ponza in 1987).”

And it is not the only one of the fallen scientific certainties related to our seas. Main suspect is climate change upsetting the balance of the seas, its fauna and flora. Such as thecase of coral reefs created in Apulia.

Italian boat sunk by orca

Speaking of disasters. In the imagination of every sailor, the sensational sinking in the Atlantic caused by an orca attack on Giorgio Falck’s famous racing boat Guia, which in 1976, as witnessed by the Giornale della Vela, sank, ripped open and by a miracle the crew was saved, remains imprinted.

orca attack guide

Here is what Falck himself wrote to the Sailing Newspaper about what it means to lose a boat: “This in captain Norman speaking…The crew is fine, but the boat has sunk…The instant effect was that of the world turning upside down, as had happened to me, physically, as a child, when I had fallen off my horse. Only boat owners can understand. Can understand the affection–no, the accumulation of affections that a boat contains: the quartz watch “guaranteed two seconds a month, a gift from my uncle and companion at the many stops during the world tour; the sextant with which I had made my first stitches, hesitantly, in ’71; the blue blanket on which a kind hand had embroidered “reserved for Giorgio.”

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