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  • Writer's pictureGrupo de trabajo Orcas

FriendSHIP orcas: New Project for the protection and conservation of Iberian orcas

The project designed by the Coordinadora para o Estudo dos Mamíferos Mariños CEMMA was a finalist in the 'Santander for the seas' 2022 call.

This project is among the three chosen for financing by the second edition of 'Santander for the Seas' program of the Banco Santander Foundation to protect seas and oceans.

The project, which CEMMA began to design together with the GTOA Atlantic Orca Working Group in 2020 as a result of the interactions of orcas with sailboats, aims to create outreach and environmental education tools that promote information about the species, the permeabilization of its environmental interest and, ultimately, contribute to its conservation.

The orca

The orca (Orcinus orca) is a species of apex and cosmopolitan marine predator. The subpopulation that inhabits the Iberian Peninsula is related to those that inhabit the waters of the Canary Islands, and both are genetically isolated from the populations that inhabit the waters of Norway and Iceland. During spring and summer, this Iberian subpopulation feeds mainly on bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) in the Strait of Gibraltar. We are talking about a small population nucleus, made up of less than 50 adult specimens, grouped into 5 family nuclei, which present various threats to their conservation, such as interaction with fishing, scarcity of food resources and a reduced birth and survival rate. Since 2020, the Iberian orcas have been involved in a new behaviour, completely unknown to the scientific community, and of which there is no record anywhere else on the planet. It is a series of interactions with boats, mainly sailboats, that involve physical contact with the boats. On certain occasions there was significant damage, so the boats were out of control and had to be rescued to be towed to port. In this time two specimens have already died, still due to unknown causes, but this had not happened so frequently in previous years. Until the end of 2021, a total of 239 interactions have been recorded, which worries both sailors and the scientific community. The treatment of some media, and the transmission of inaccurate information, generated a certain social alarm among users of the sea (water sports, fishermen...) and among society in general, reaching a very negative impact both on the perception of the species and in the social projection towards its conservation. That is why under the principle that only what is loved is conserved and only what is known is loved, we try to provide information to contribute to the conservation of the species.

These orcas that interacted with the ships were colloquially called "GLADIS", which comes from the term "gladiators", in honor of the scientific name that the French naturalist Pierre Joseph Bonnaterre (1752 - 1804) gave the species in 1789: Orca gladiator, within his proposal for the systematic classification of cetaceans.

The project

Within this project proposal, it was decided to keep the term FRIENDSHIP, to carry out a series of actions aimed at this subpopulation of orcas, which constitute an example of the struggle for survival and conservation, playing with the words between friendship and boat, to treat to reduce tension with this sector. In addition to useful materials for the RRSS social networks, such as a web page, videos, texts and images, there will be the design of widely disseminated informative materials and use in the workshops that will be held for the different ages of the public. It will have materials illustrated by cartoonists: Pepe Carreiro, with Os Bolechas, Manel Cráneo with the character of the environmental detective Carmela Orzán or the naturalist magazine SALSEIRO, designed by Tokio. This set of materials will be used for the workshops that will be held all over the country from Gibraltar to Hondarribia.

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