New project will promote the tagging of killer whales to reduce interaction with boats

During the summer and autumn of 2020, episodes of interaction between various killer whales (Orcinus orca) and vessels, mainly sailboats, began to occur both in the Strait of Gibraltar and in the waters off the Galician coast. These events have continued to occur in subsequent years.

The Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge is promoting the satellite tagging of six orca specimens, in collaboration with the CIRCE entity (Conservation, Information and Study on Cetaceans).

As part of this project, the satellite tagging of an orca specimen has already been carried out, which had previously been identified as one of the specimens that interact with the boats.

The information provided by this satellite tag will allow, during the period in which the device is in operation, to identify its location in the last few hours and to draw up a weekly map of the approximate area in which this killer whale has been moving in this period. This information will be shared with the competent administrations, which will disseminate it for the knowledge of the navigators, in order to try to minimize the risk of interaction, avoiding or minimising navigation through said areas, thus leaving the whales alone to reduce their disturbance.

In addition, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, through the LIFE INTEMARES project, coordinated by the Ministry’s Biodiversity Foundation, and in collaboration with the CIRCE entity, started a pilot project last summer to try to minimise the interactions of orcas with sailboats in the Strait of Gibraltar.

These works continue the scientific study carried out at the end of 2021 by the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals and the Atlantic Orca Working Group on the episodes of interaction between the orca population with sailboats in the waters of Galicia and of the Strait of Gibraltar. Among its conclusions, it was urged to test interaction minimization techniques and to deepen the knowledge about the habits of the species.

Following these recommendations, this demonstrative pilot project intends to test different navigation devices and techniques to offer clear guidelines for action, especially for sailboats, which allow their navigation to be safe. At the same time, the development of actions aimed at getting orcas out of habituation to boats will be sought.

Orcinus orca

The killer whale (Orcinus orca) is a marine mammal with social habits, intelligent, which is regularly present in the waters under Spanish jurisdiction, from the Strait of Gibraltar and the Atlantic coasts of the Gulf of Cádiz and Galicia, to the Cantabrian Sea, where it finds essential habitats for its feeding. Individuals are organised in stable social groups and are spatially and seasonally associated with the bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) stock, which causes their migratory movements.

This population is classified as vulnerable in the Spanish Catalogue of Threatened Species, developed by Royal Decree 139/2011, of February 4. For the species included in this catalogue, article 57 of Law 42/2007, of December 13, on Natural Heritage and Biodiversity prohibits any action carried out with the purpose of killing, capturing, persecuting or disturbing them.