Extensive research is needed in orca attacks, sailor in latest case says

Extensive research is needed in orca attacks, sailor in latest case says
Orca, photo: Canva

“There is clearly a wider issue here that needs extensive research,” sailor April Boyes, who was with three other sailors when orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar attacked their vessel, said in a statement. “These are beautiful creatures, and demonizing them is not the answer.”

Boyes said the media had sensationalized the incident, but all four were not traumatized by the attack – “everyone acted in a professional manner, and we were all safe” – and were more worried about what is happening with the animals.

“I am not a scientist, but orcas have a migration pattern, and there are huge tuna fishing nets at Barbate. I do wonder whether they associate vessels with fishing and taking their tuna,” Boyes said. “Is it overfished?”

So far, researchers are clueless about why there is a growing number of orca assaults on vessels along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts.

The incident with Boyes’ boat was the latest in a series of interactions reported in the Strait of Gibraltar between small vessels and orcas, according to research group GTOA, which monitors the Iberian orca sub-species. 

The GTOA has recorded at least 20 orca-vessel incidents this month alone and reported 207 interactions in 2022. In response to these incidents, the Spanish Transport Ministry has issued guidelines for ships navigating in waters where orcas are present.

If any unusual behavior by the orcas is observed, such as sudden changes in direction or speed, vessels are to leave the area to avoid further disturbing the animals. The ministry also mandates reporting any interaction between a ship and an orca to the authorities.

While they are commonly known as killer whales, orcas are part of the dolphin family and are endangered.

“Ultimately, we can only wonder, but as the (orca) behavior becomes more learned, this kind of incident is more likely to happen again and again. Could safe routes be marked on a chart? Perhaps a convoy or recommended sailing hours through the strait of Gibraltar,” Boyes suggested.

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