Orca attacks on yachts

Orca attacksSince July 2020, immediately after the global lockdown, orcas have repeatedly attacked yachts along the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Most of the time they follow the same pattern: A yacht, no matter if it is running under engine or sailing, is approached by several, mostly young orcas. The large dolphins swim parallel to the ship over a period of up to one hour, targeting the rudder and keel. Especially the rudders of the yachts are in focus: The mammals bite into them, ram and damage them in such a way that some of the ships have to be towed to the next harbor for costly repairs.

Science and the public have so far been baffled by these orca attacks. The explanations range from reactions to too much ship noise, to a simple play instinct of young “hooligans” and the driving away of predators, to a concerted, symbolic reaction of the animals to the destructive influence of man against nature. 

We sailed through the affected areas over 20 times in 2021. Twice it also hit our crews. Only twice can you actually say that, given the number of orca attacks – in 2021 alone, there may have already been more than 150.

The first time it happened to us was when we were traveling with a shipyard-new Y7. The orcas came at night in the Gulf of Cadiz and worked their way around the rudder of this yacht for a good hour. The engine was switched off, the yacht just drifted, then they disappeared again. 

The second time it hit a crew of three, with a skipper from us (the YACHT reported). They were sailing a Beneteau 38 in the same place, not far from Barbarte, also in the Gulf of Cadiz, 30 miles from the Strait of Gibraltar. Fred, our skipper on the trip, reported that the orcas attacked 17 times before running off again.

While the large Y7 (70 feet) showed no damage after the Orca attack, the Beneteau was hit harder. The rudder was partially bitten off, also the smaller ship took more at the keel due to the continuous rammings.

The bitten off rudder of the Beneteau 38

We are currently in “orca territory” again, this time with a cat, a Lagoon 50. If you are potentially affected, you worry about fighting back or at least deterring the orcas in some way. The Portuguese and Spanish authorities recommend turning everything off when in contact with the orcas, i.e. playing “dead”, so that the animals are not further irritated.   But this strategy has not always prevented them from causing considerable damage recently.

Countermeasures are also being discussed in the relevant sailor forums. Mostly behind closed doors, because orcas are an endangered species, and therefore, of course, any massive resistance is forbidden.

Nevertheless, defense ideas are discussed. From chlorine or diesel, to small firecrackers, PVC pipes fitted with megaphones, or metal rods that reach into the water and are worked with hammers to drive the animals away with noise, as Canadian fishermen are said to do. Reversing under motor has also been considered useful. 

We are curious to see what happens next. In the current cruise, we have prepared something in any case and will see if the defensive measures are successful, if necessary. In our opinion, just playing dead and waiting until you are unable to maneuver cannot be a forward-looking strategy. It must be possible to defend oneself, at least to deter massively: Wouldn’t every animal laugh at you otherwise?

PS: There is a new traffic light that shows warning levels for the respective regions. Here is the link. However, it is not constantly updated. https://www.orcaiberica.org/recommendations?fbclid=IwAR1pfSbc5AgKACM4hJsRs9P1vK12vD2CSj5OIbx5HmIs4KcLdXYVAUNjrF8

And here is the link to the exclusion zone issued by the Spanish authorities in August 2021 west of Tarifa. https://a0232f99-bdd7-480e-9b78-613ef22d51fd.filesusr.com/ugd/0c05a2_99ccd2c9d1864d02abbbfaaaaa7fc5d9.pdf


At this point, the attack hit us on a Y7. In the meantime, the authorities have set up an exclusion zone there.

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Currently we are in the region with this Lagoon 50 on the road

Especially around Cape Fisterre orca attacks occur

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With this Y7 we were attacked in July ’21, such yachts can usually not harm the animals. With smaller ships, of course, the situation is different…