As sailors we have a responsibility to do our best for a healthier ocean. Afterall, we are merely visitors. We also want to stay safe and the orca killer whale interactions with your boat can be terrifying. In this blogpost you find resources to be aware and be prepared as a sailor navigating orca waters.
Dozens of sailboats have been damaged, lost steering, and even sunk. We have few members who shared about their orca interactions here. Lots has been written about the interactions and different approaches to act are recommended by different organizations. So what can we do for the killers whales as well as for our safety?
“The fear and helplessness was intense and unfortunately I didn’t appreciate the encounter for what it was, a glimpse in their world and a look at these majestic creature who belong here much more than I do.” as one of our members reported.
“A group of 4/5 (what I think big) Orcas kept pushing/hitting my rudder. They stayed for about 40 minutes continuously hitting me. The sound of the banging and the fear of how bad the damage would be if and when they left took all the fun out of the encounter. They were not cute and dolphin sized, they were big and intimidating, and where I love to hear dolphins come up to breathe, the sound of the Orcas was terrifying.”
What is the latest and most accurate information for sailors on orca presence? Over the last years since the presence of orcas with sailboats started in 2020 more research and resources has come out. There are some great initiatives out there to facilitate education, awareness and the latest on what to do as a sailor.
Why do orca’s hit sailing boats?
There are lots of theories and hypothesis and speculations out there. The latest analysis says “it’s horizontal playful behaviour of juveniles,” according to OrcaPortugal.
How not to react to orca’s presence as a sailor or anyone
Guns and home made explosives are being used trying to sent orca’s away. See the footage below. These practices can make them deaf resulting in not being able hunt, communicate, and navigate. Imagine someone showing up in your home throwing a home made explosive.
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Resources for sailors and orca interaction
OrcaIberia works for the conservation and management of a subpopulation of orcas that are endangered in the Iberian Peninsula. They created protocols, informational resources and even an app to educate you. It’s an extensive resource out there caring for the animals as well as your safety at sea.
Orcas.Pt is a Portuguese local initiative that is rapidly expanding to a useful resource for sailors sharing up to date locations and do’s and don’t through their website and a telegram group. They also refer to the latest recommendation from Spanish and Portuguese authorities.
How to know where the orca’s are?
OrcaIberia created an interactive map based on information received from navigators and salvage services, interactions and sightings. It is considered valid for 24 hours with security or until new notice.
Also Orcas.pt has an interactive map on their website.
What do to when Orcas are interacting?
Recommendations from OrcaIberica on what to do as a sailors when the orca’s are around your vessel. “Try to keep the boat on course, as hitting the rudder underwater can cause the rudder wheel to suddenly spin out of control, and it has been shown that animals tend to hit the rudder harder as they feel more pressure on him and the damage to ships tend to be larger. Orcas can be stimulated by human actions to interact with the boat, so please try to stay out of their sight and do not shout, try to hit them, touch them or throw things at them.”
- If possible given sea conditions and location, reduce speed, stop the engine, (lower the sails), turn off the autopilot, and leave the helm free.
- Contact emergency services on 112/canal 16 radio or the local authority (Tarifa 10; Tangier 69; Fisterra 16).
- Remove your hands from the steering wheel and don’t touch it; move away from any part of the boat that could fall or rotate suddenly.
- If possible, turn off the depth sounder and keep the VHF and positioning elements ON.
- If you have a phone with a camera or another device, record the animals, especially their dorsal fins, for identification purposes.
- After a while, when you don’t feel any pressure on the helm and the animals have moved away, check that it turns and functions.
- If you notice damage that prevents navigation, request towing.
- Allow your contact information to be shared with cetacean specialists for case evaluation.
- Basic information to provide to authorities: Name of the boat – Day and time – Contact (phone / email) – Position (GPS/approximate).
See here the latest information on frequently asked questions on orca’s and sailing.
Learn more and stay up to date
Last but not least, Educate yourself. Learn about these beautiful creatures. From understanding comes caring and from caring comes action. There’s now an app GT Orcas that helps you: Identify the more frequent cetaceans, have information about sightings and orca interactions, consult maps with the most active areas of orcas, send information about cetacean sightings and interactions, and inform about security protocols in case of interaction. You can download it from your mobile in PLAY STORE and APPLE STORE. Look for the application as GT Orcas.
You can join the Facebook Group of the Cruisers Association and Telegram group of Orcas.PT.
Also there’s a really cool posted with lots of information about the Orca. You can download it here.
the Ocean Nomads network
The killer whale interactions are also an ongoing topic in our member network where members have reported their experiences and best practices keeping both their safety and the environment in mind.
What we can do as ocean lovers to contribute to a healthier ocean is continuous conversation. Join the ocean nomads member network to unite with fellow advocates to create more waves and support our ocean conservation efforts.
For a limited time, try 1 month for free as a vessel owner!