Sonntag, 4. Juni 2023

Orca Update: Spanish Authorities Change Their Guidelines for Sailor's Behaviour in Orca Interactions. Latest Findings on Sand and Fire-Cracker.

Here we go with the latest update.

The Spanish authorities are revising and reformulating their previous behavioural measures for Sailors during orca attacks. 
The map above shows the current orca "hot spots" off the fishing village of Barbate in the western entrance of Gibraltar Strait. 
The foto is taken from the "recommendations" published by the ministry. 

1. Spanish Authorities Change Guidelines for Sailors in Case of Orca Rudder Attacks.

Back in May, the Spanish Ministry of Transport (Ministerio de Transportes, Movilidad y Agenda Urbana) in Madrid changed its official guidelines for skippers and captains in case of an orca rudder attack. With its latest recommendations, the authorities are moving away from the practice recommended since 2020 of stopping the yacht, engine and all equipment in the event of violent interaction of killer whales, in order to make the target as unattractive as possible to the orcas. Since summer 2020, off the Iberian Peninsula, official estimates are that several hundred yacht rudders have been reported as damaged by killer whales. Three yachts have been reported as "sunk as a result of orca interaction". Unofficial estimates in my research THE RIDDE OF THE ORCAS put both numbers far higher for "damaged" as well as "sunk" by orcas.

Instead of standing still, the authorities are now advising every yacht in the event of an orca interaction to recover its sails and depart as quickly as possible under engine to the shallowest possible waters "till the orcas lose interest."

In its latest recommendations the ministry published the map shown above of the current hot spot of orca rudder attacks off Barbate and strongly advises yachts to seek immediate coastal proximity and shallow water when passing in front of the killer whales active there, if draft, wind and sea conditions do allow.

Furthermore, it is pointed out that orcas involved in interactions should be photographed and that it is the duty of every skipper to report orca interactions.

All other details of the guidelines can be found on the website of the spanish ministry

in Spanish or in English translation at the bottom of this article.

2. Further Discussion on Sand and Firecrackers as Repellents.

In my previous Orca-update Paul Linguard of CRUISING ASSOCIATION explained the effect of sand as a means of defence against the orcas in a well-founded way. However the discussion about reliability of sand continues. The leading spanish orca and cetacean researcher Renaud De Stephanis, one of 10 orca experts interviewed in THE RIDDLE OF THE ORCAS, remains sceptical about the effect of sand. The orcas, being intelligent animals, are smart enough and have figured out how to avoid the effect of sand on their sensitive sonar location. 

Apart from that, my own observations of sailors using sand documented in videos reveal often application errors. Dumping sand at full speed is pointless, as sand disperses immediately at five knots speed like any other substance applied. Sand should only be applied when lying still. Some videos also reveal  far too small quantites of sand being spread by sailors from small bags. Spanish Fishermen carry sand in large quantities and release it from their quiet lying boats into the water in huge bags to confuse the orca sonar.

Former Chairman of the German Cruising Association TRANS-OCEAN Martin Birkhoff recently reported on the effect of firecrackers, so-called "seal bombs", which fishermen use to repel seals from their nets, on his website. He experienced two short violent orca interactions damaging his stearing. He finally used so-called "fire-crackers" as a last resort, which probably did stop the interactions. 

He also tried to verify the legal bindingness of the Spanish ban on "fire-crackers" on his website and researched its sources. Read more at - to read Martin Birkhoff's article in English scroll to bottom of the link.

More information about the puzzling background of the behaviour:

Released in April 2023
20 british, german, french and polish sailors report 
on how they survived violent Orca interactions
- and scientists respond to their observations.
A must read for everybody sailing the Orca Alley in 2023
from an author who sailing it in 2022.
Available as eBook or Print

English Translation of
Recommendations for Skippers when Killer Whales interact with their Vessel.

If you are at sea and encounter killer whales or other cetaceans who interact with the vessel, the skipper/captain of the vessel is obliged to take the following measures as far as possible:

a. Prevent persons on board from approaching the railing. 

Ensure that they stay on the vessel in places offering maximum shelter from abrupt vessel movements which could lead to injury, going overboard and injuries caused by loose objects.

b. In the event of violent interaction it is better to motor than to sail, not to stop the vessel, as well as to run in a direct path with speed towards shallow waters, as far as wind and sea conditions do allow this to the vessel concerned to do so until the killer whales lose interest.

c. In the case of vessels under sail, care should be taken to ensure the integrity of the keel and anything that may affect the stability of the vessel. Therefore, in the event of an interaction, it is recommended that the sails be recovered and to run under engine.

d. It is recommended to sail as close to the coast as possible, as far as safety and structural characteristics of the vessel do allow. This is especially true off Barbate Bay, where there is less likelihood of encountering killer whale groups in close proximity to shore.

e. Any vessel or boat observing the presence of killer whales or other cetaceans, whether interacting or not, must strictly comply with the provisions of Royal Decree 1727 of 21 December 2007. This establishes measures for the protection of cetaceans, in particular those aimed at avoiding any behaviour that may cause death, harm, harassment or discomfort to cetaceans and, in general, any behaviour listed in Articles 4 and 5 of the said Royal Decree.

f. Killer whales involved in interactions shall be observed and, if possible, photographed. These activities may only be carried out in compliance with all precautionary measures and in the exercise of good seamanship, without prejudice to the safety of navigation or appropriate rules. And only when it is possible and safe not to expose the vessel or boat, the persons on board and the cetaceans to major risks.

g. Whatever newer instructions or recommendations exist should be passed on to seafarers.

h. It is recalled that it is the duty of every master or skipper to report events that pose a hazard to navigation. Therefore, interactions with killer whales should be reported to the appropriate Sea Rescue Coordination Centre (Salvamento Marítimo).

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