Spain bans small sailboats after mysterious orca attacks

Orcas, photo: Nitesh Jain on Unsplash
Orcas, photo: Nitesh Jain on Unsplash

Spain has temporarily banned sailboats from a stretch of its northwestern coast after several vessels were damaged in attacks by orcas in recent weeks.

The week-long ban, which came into effect on Tuesday night, applies to sailboats under 15 meters (49 feet) long and aims to protect “both people and the orcas”, the transport ministry said in a statement.

The first attack was reported on August 19, said the ministry. Since then, there had been several more orca attacks against sailboats, causing various degrees of damage to the vessels, mostly to their rudders. The sailboats attacked were all under 15 meters long.

A video posted on social media shows orcas swimming alongside and underneath a Spanish naval yacht in August off the coast of Galicia before the sailors realize the rudder has been damaged.

The prohibition could be extended to other stretches of the coast “following the migration routes” of the Gibraltar orcas, which are categorized as “vulnerable” species, the ministry added. There are less than 50 orcas left in the Gibraltar Straits.

Some scientists think that maybe the orcas made the link that people are responsible for their food shortages. The population of orcas that live in the Gibraltar Straits mostly eat bluefin tuna which is endangered due to high global demand caused by human consumption.

And not all orcas eat the same type of food across the globe, orca biologist Naomi Rose said: “Each population of orcas around the world is different. They eat differently, they speak differently, they behave differently. They are cultural, and it’s their environment that makes them what they are.”

Another theory that Rose says she’s inclined to think of is that something bad could have happened to a family member in the pod of orcas, such as a sailing vessel hitting one of the orcas.

This could have led to some of the individuals attacking similar boats that caused damage to one of the orcas, or maybe one of their calves, which a family of orcas can be very protective over.

The Animal Reader talked to orca biologist Naomi Rose about the attacks in Spain.

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