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Orcas Cause Concern for Cruising Sailors Along Atlantic Coasts

21st March 2024
An orca interaction with a yacht on the Iberian peninsula
An orca interaction with a yacht on the Iberian peninsula

As the cruising season arrives along the Atlantic coasts of France, Portugal, Spain, and through the Strait of Gibraltar, sailors are being urged to remain vigilant for potential orca encounters. The Cruising Association (CA) has issued a warning to sailors to take precautions and follow protocols to minimize the risk of encounters and provide guidance on actions to take if an encounter occurs.

Around fifteen of a population of less than fifty orcas have caused damage to numerous small vessels, at least four of which have sunk. The damage typically affects the rudders, and crews can usually make their way to a safe port. To date, no one has reported being seriously injured.

Since June 2022, the CA has been collecting and sharing reports and data on orca interactions along this coastline. In early 2023, interactions escalated, and there is no indication that the situation will ease in 2024.

According to John Burbeck, the CA Orca Project Team Lead, skippers and crews should familiarise themselves with protocols to mitigate potential encounters. "By being prepared and prioritizing safety and awareness, skippers can reduce the risk of meeting orca while navigating the affected waters," he said.

Migration routes of orcas

It is important to understand the migration routes of orcas, and skippers should plan passage routes to avoid known danger zones. Reviewing past interaction data available at the CA's dedicated orca information and reporting portal can provide valuable insights to aid in planning.

Skippers should be aware of the danger zones for orca interactions. In 2023, this extended as far north as Brest in France and through the Bay of Biscay, the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar Straits, the north Moroccan coast, and along Spain’s Mediterranean coastline up to Marbella.

During late April to October, as boats transit the affected waters, the likelihood of encountering orcas increases. Skippers should stay informed of current orca locations, hotspots, and trends, which will aid in route planning and decision-making Team

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