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Orcas off Iberia – Are they Aggressive or Just too Curious & Friendly? (Video)

21st February 2021
Orcas pictured on the south coast of Portugal, 12 miles from Cape Santa Maria in Faro
Orcas pictured on the south coast of Portugal, 12 miles from Cape Santa Maria in Faro Credit: Jose Manuel Baldor Gutierrez

Late last summer and into the Autumn, there were several reports of orcas – "killer whales" if you want to be more sensational – getting decidedly friendly to the point of aggression with fishing boats and sailing cruisers off the coasts of Spain and Portugal.

They seem to be back in business, but now it's off the coast of the Algarve, and Galicia-based sailor Jose Manuel Baldor Gutierrez has posted some vids showing a pair taking more interest than was comfortable in his 45-footer off Portugal's southern shore.

He reports:

"These videos are of what happened yesterday when sailing gently along on the south coast of Portugal, 12 miles from Cape Santa Maria in Faro. I don't know much about the subject of orcas and whales generally, but when the stern of the boat was suddenly turned 90 degrees, I thought at first it was a complete autopilot failure.

But immediately when I saw the orcas, I disconnected the autopilot, and then turned off all the other electronics and electrics by disconnecting the batteries. However, seeing that the orcas were still very much there, it seemed best to stop the boat moving altogether.

So we took all the sails down and left the boat to roll gently in the light winds, while the two of us got into the little bathtub to minimise our presence and maximise the number of protective layers between us and the orcas, should they decided to step up the attention in a more confrontational way.

We'd been "hiding" in the bathtub for a very long 10 to 15 minutes until – with the boat "dead" - they finally lost interest and left. But we waited another even longer 15 minutes before we re-connected the batteries and started sailing with very little wind, at first not using the engine and minimizing the changes to the rudder direction.

My feeling is that their interest is primarily in the rudder, as its movement suggests it's the only living part of the boat – they go to this mobile hull zone, because they can do nothing on the keel or bow. But having seen the sheer power evident in the way they spun our boat through 90 degrees with very little effort, it could be that accidents will happen if you try to control the rudder by hanging on to the wheel – you could end up with damaged arm and shoulder muscles, or even with a broken tiller arm on the rudder stock.

Now we know a little bit more about orcas, and luckily the experience ultimately went well"

Published in Marine Wildlife
WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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