The killer whales that this summer have contacted small sailboats in the Strait – at least 150 interactions according to data from the Atlantic Orca Task Force – have been the target of attacks and harpoons, as shown by photos and videos provided by an orca tracker for educational purposes and scientists who work for tourism companies.
Experts point to killer whales approaching sailboats to teach their young to hunt tuna
These contacts have caused the Cádiz Maritime Captaincy to ban sailboats of up to fifteen meters in Ensenada de Barbate (Cádiz) until September 7 to avoid risky situations, since cetaceans seem to have specialized in breaking the rudder of these boats, leaving them adrift, with the consequent risks.
Director since 2014 of the Cetacean Interpretation Center and Aula del Mar de Tarifa (CICAM), Francisco Gil, skipper, diving teacher and underwater camera operator, has been working as a tracker for twenty years and has assured Efe that until now The unprecedented behavior of killer whales, which he defines as extraordinarily intelligent and empathetic, could be a response to the attacks they suffered last summer and have continued to suffer this summer.
Injured killer whales
Collaborator of several university centers of Marine Biology, Oceanography and Marine Sciences, Gil has dived with all the species of cetaceans in the Strait until the prohibition of this activity in 2007, and has been diving with orcas for seven years, so meet the most prominent members of the “clan” of these dolphins that hunt tuna in the Strait.
In his daily outings in search of cetaceans, he verified last year that there were killer whales with injuries, with scars, and some that had been harpooned with a hook (type of spear) still had it nailed, episodes that he has ensured have been repeated this summer .
In addition to photos on the surface, Gil keeps underwater photos – made with permission of the Ministry of Ecological Transition and taken by Rafael Fernández Caballero – of the injured killer whales, and a video of about five minutes of duration recorded by the crew of a sailboat that at the time being contacted by cetaceans, they respond by using the boat hook and trying to repel them with other equally aggressive means.
Killer whales, which can weigh up to five and a half tons, do not attack sailboats, which they could easily wreck because, according to Gil, “they are very clever.” Extreme shared by the Atlantic Orca Task Force: “They are not attacking. If they wanted to capsize a ship they would do it”
New hypothesis: “a protest”
That is why the contacts that this summer have become so frequent and that until last year had practically not occurred, Francisco Gil interprets them as “a protest” of the animals. This is a new hypothesis from a person who spends a lot of time with orcas. Although scientists recognize that there are several hypotheses on the table and that this unusual behavior needs to be scientifically verified: since it may be a game, a tuna hunting training, or an animal response to something we are doing wrong, because , they admit, in the sea “real atrocities are being done”.
According to Gil, when the confinement by Covid-19 was ended last year, numerous sailboats left with permission to carry out sport fishing for tuna and like orcas, since the years of tuna scarcity, they learned to dispute them by ripping them off the line , received these attacks by the crew of some sports sailboats.
Historically, Gil has insisted, orcas and men have lived together and even collaborated in fishing for tuna, since every spring, when shoals of tuna reach the Mediterranean, the orcas corner them and push them towards the traditional Cadiz traps that they are fished by this ancient art.
The killer whale swims at 50 kilometers per hour and the tuna can do it at 90, so the cetacean, to hunt them, is organized into groups that harass and surround them.
Francisco Gil has regretted that these events are taking place in a period of abundance of tunas and has considered that the fishing quotas should be reviewed to expand those of the traps and other traditional arts of the fishermen of the region.
The killer whales have only contacted small sailboats, which carry the propeller in front and very far from the rudder, which allows them to bite it without risk and render the boats useless – hence the recommendations of Maritime Rescue, in case of contact with killer whales, are to leave the rudder still and aligned with the hull of the boat, stop the boat by folding sails and stopping the machine and do not look over the side or shout.