The killer whales that this summer have contacted small sailboats in the Strait , of which 30 needed towing due to losing their rudder, have been the object of attacks and harpoons , as shown by photos and videos provided by a killer whale tracker for educational and scientific purposes that works for tourist companies.
These contacts have caused the Capitania Maritima de Cadiz to prohibit sailboats of up to fifteen meters in the Ensenada de Barbate (Cadiz) until September 7 to avoid risk situations, since the 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 unprecedented behavior of orcas, animals that he defines as extraordinarily intelligent and empathic, is a response to the attacks they suffered last summer and have continued to suffer this summer .
Orcas with wounds and scars
Collaborating with 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 dived with orcas for seven years, for which meet the most prominent members of the “clan” of these whales that hunt tuna in the Strait .
In his daily outings in search of cetaceans, he verified last year that there were orcas with wounds, with scars, and some that had been harpooned with a gaff (type of spear) still had it nailed, episodes that have been repeated this summer. .
In addition to photos on the surface, Gil keeps underwater photos – taken with permission from the Ministry of Ecological Transition and taken by Rafael Fernandez Caballero – of the wounded killer whales, and a video of about five minutes recorded by the crew of a sailboat that Being contacted by the cetaceans, they respond using the boat hook and trying to repel them with other equally aggressive means -images that have been published on the internet-.
The killer whales, which can weigh up to five and a half tons, do not attack sailboats , which they could easily shipwreck because, according to Gil, “they are very smart and they know we can kill them.”
That is why the contacts that have become so frequent this summer and that until last year had practically not occurred, he interprets as “a protest” by the animals .
The killer whales have only contacted small sailboats, which have the propeller in front and very far from the rudder, which allows them to bite it without risk and disable the boats -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 engine and not lean overboard or shout -.
According to Gil, when the confinement due to Covid-19 ended last year, numerous sailboats left with permission to carry out sport fishing for tuna and like the orcas, since the years of the tuna shortage, whose banks are now recovered, they learned to dispute them by tearing them from the line , they received these attacks by the crew members of some sports sailboats.
Historically, Gil has insisted, orcas and men have lived together and have even collaborated in tuna fishing , since every spring, when tuna schools reach the Mediterranean, the orcas corner them and push them towards the traditional traps women from Cadiz who fish them using this ancient art.
The orca swims at 50 kilometers per hour and the tuna can do it at 90, so the cetacean, to hunt them down, organizes in groups that harass and surround them.
Francisco Gil has lamented that in a period of abundance of tuna these events are taking place and has considered that the fishing quotas should be reviewed to expand those that have the tuna traps and other traditional gear of the fishermen of the region.
The Iberian killer whale, cataloged in danger of extinction , currently has five groups in the Strait with an estimated total of about fifty members.