One close encounter that at least left the boat intact: photo taken by Rita Mexia

Tourist boats “banned from approaching groups of orcas”

ICNF ban comes in wake of countless incidents involving damage to vessels 

Portugal’s institute for the conservation of nature and forests (ICNF) has banned maritime tourist vessels from actively approaching groups of orcas, “in order to avoid serious consequences”, reports Lusa today.

“According to the ICNF, interactions between orcas and vessels, mostly sailboats, have been recorded since 2020 in the Strait of Gibraltar area, Portuguese coast and Galicia (Spain).

“While the reasons for this recent and repetitive behaviour towards vessels is unknown, it is known that the initial interactions, conducted by a small group of juvenile orcas, are currently carried out by a wider range of animals“, the institute explains.

In a notice published on its website, the ICNF warns that, given the size of adult animals (a maximum of eight to nine metres in length and three to five tonnes in weight), the more intense interaction of orcas with semi-rigid or other types of smaller vessels, such as those used for whale watching, “may have more serious consequences”.

The institute determines that in cases where orcas try to approach the vessels, the latter should move away and that whenever the animals come close to the boats without the crew realising, the vessel should be stopped, leaving the engine running, only resuming when the animals move away.

These bans are covered by a decree-law aimed at the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora in the territory of the European Union, continues Lusa.

“All bans will be valid until the last day of the year”.

What is not clear from the ICNF action is whether maritime tourist boats have been actively seeking out groups of orcas. Certainly nothing in the incidents reported this far would suggest so. In fact, according to international reports, regular sailors are now avoiding the Portuguese coast, because of the increasing number of ‘interactions with orcas’ that invariably leave sailing boats much worse off, if not at the bottom of the sea.

According to data from the Atlantic Orca Working Group (GTOA) – a team of Spanish and Portuguese marine life researchers studying orcas near the Iberian Peninsula – more than 200 interactions between orcas and boats were recorded just in the last year on the Iberian Peninsula’s Atlantic coast.

As a result of the scourge, a new underwater acoustic device is being tested this summer in the hope that it might dissuade the orca’s behaviour and ‘return Iberia’s water’ to their former relative safety.

Source: LUSA