Avoiding Orca Encounters in the Straits of Gibraltar and Off the Spanish Coast

Shortly after the coronavirus lockdowns in 2020 the first reports of orca hitting the rudder of a sailing boat were heard, since then there has been a notable increase in reports of orca encounters involving sailing boats in the Straits of Gibraltar and off the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. These encounters have sparked concerns among sailors about safety and how to navigate these waters. While it is crucial to acknowledge that most boats pass through these areas without incident, the prevalence of social media coverage can sometimes create the perception that safe passage is impossible. However, it is important to remain informed and take precautionary measures to ensure a secure journey.

Safety Precautions: Sailing Close to the Coast

At Queensway Quay Marina, we have had several boats seeking emergency berths due to damage sustained during orca encounters. As a result, it is advisable to take avoiding action, with the current “safest passage” believed to be sailing close to the coast. By hugging the coastline, sailors can minimise their proximity to orca hotspots and reduce the likelihood of encounters. The Spanish government has released map that highlights the current areas where interactions are more likely to occur. The June 2023 version is above, however the Spanish ministry of transport is updating the map weekly so we recommend checking official sources for the most up to date information. It has also been reported that passages through the south side of the straights have encountered less problems, though be advised this may change with the location of the tuna as the orca are well known for following the Moroccan fishermen during tuna season.

Latest advice from Spanish Transport Authorities if you come across orca

The Spanish Transport authorities have recently issued new advice regarding orca encounters. While the initial guidance was to turn off the engine, sonar, and other equipment, the current recommendation as of June 2023 is to drop your sails as a safety measure and motor towards shallower water. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that all crew members are safely positioned in the cockpit and away from areas where they could fall overboard in the event of a jolt from an orca. Turning on the engine and motoring towards shallower waters is also advised, as it may help deter orcas from continuing their approach. You’ll often hear sitings of the orca mentioned on VHF and of course the Spanish Maritime Rescue should be informed.

Reliable Sources and Government Updates
If you’re planning a passage through the straights staying informed about orca encounters and related safety measures is paramount. Seek information from reliable sources, including official government websites and maritime authorities. Regularly check for updates, as the situation and guidance may evolve. By relying on trusted sources, sailors can obtain accurate and up-to-date information to ensure their safety and the well-being of orcas. If you are looking for anecdotal advice or experience from those who have tried some new techniques to dispel the attack such as sprinkling sand into the water, banging metal poles in the water or sounding a fog horn against the hull there are many groups on Facebook such as this one – Orca Attack Reports. The Cruising Association also has a list of 137 interactions with details of the location, vessel type etc which is very useful information.

Maintaining Perspective and Enjoying the Journey

While recent orca encounters have garnered attention, it is essential to maintain perspective. The majority of boats pass through the Straits of Gibraltar and the Spanish and Portuguese coasts without encountering orcas. Social media coverage may amplify the perception of risk, but it does not necessarily reflect the everyday experience of sailors. By following safety recommendations, staying informed, and taking necessary precautions, sailors can continue to enjoy their journeys while appreciating the extraordinary marine life that inhabits these waters. We wish you a safe passage.

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