Summary of interactions orca/boat in 2020-21

Summary of interactions in 2020

The interactions began in the month of July 2020 in the Strait of Gibraltar, registering 10 interactions in the area, followed by 8 on the Portuguese coast and 2 in Galicia in the month of August (20 in total in that period). It should be noted that the intensity of all of them was not similar, being in some cases mere contacts with the ships that did not cause damage. At that time, it was already evident that there were several specimens in different acting groups, at least in two groups, due to great distances between interactions in short periods of time. From then on, the interactions focused on Galicia between August 30 and September 30, returning to the Portuguese coast between October 4 and November 14, where they ceased, with a total of 31 interactions during this time.

The balance in 2020 was 51 interactions, 47% in Galicia; 33% in Portugal and 20% in the Strait. The average depth at which the interactions occur is 180 meters (range 2-1324 meters). However, a difference is observed between the depths between their northward displacements (average 98 meters and a range of 2-1000 meters) and their southward displacements (average 490 meters and a range of 47-1324 meters).

Of all the orcas that arrived in Galicia in the summer of 2020, only one pod was observed moving west in the Bay of Biscay. Another was observed moving south again, being consistent with interactions between October and November in Portuguese waters. The remainder either migrated into oceanic waters north of Cabo Ortegal or westward off Cedeira, in a fan-like dispersal effect.


Summary of interactions in 2021

In 2021 the first interaction was in the waters of Morocco in January, later in February to the south of Portugal, and in Galicia in the same month. Between February and March several sightings are recorded between Galicia and Asturias, with no record of interactions.

In the month of June, the interactions in the area of ​​the Strait intensified. At the end of June interactions were detected in Portugal and in July 3 were detected in Galicia. Later the first interaction is recorded on the French coast. At that time, at least interactions caused by specimens from three different groups were detected in three different places.

In the month of June, new interactions were observed on the south coast of Portugal, simultaneously with other cases in the Strait, but these interactions did not ascend along the coast to Galicia, but instead focused intensely on the Strait again. In the month of August only interactions were recorded in the Strait. In September the orcas begin to move towards Portugal, detecting two separate groups since at the same time interactions are recorded both in Sines and in Lisbon, at the end of the month two interactions are recorded in Galicia. In this month of October there is evidence of both interactions in Galicia and Portugal, without concentrating on a specific area.

The balance in 2021 is 185 interactions, 56% in the Strait; 27% in Portugal; 9% in Galicia; 7% in Morocco and 1% in France. The average depth at which the interactions occur is 160 meters (range 8-883 meters).


Cumulative collection of records

From the compilation of information on killer whale records, it has been determined that there have been 239 cases of interaction since they began in the 2020-2021 period. In the case of sightings of the species, the data collected shows a total of 109 records reported between 2020 and 2021.

However, both the registration of these cases and the collection of information associated with each of the interactions from the beginning of the episodes were not simple processes for various reasons:

- Because it was a completely new situation and, therefore, there was no administrative procedure or entity in charge of receiving, managing and transmitting information on interactions. In some cases, we were aware of the interactions through Maritime Rescue or the Maritime Captaincies, but on other occasions, the source of information was the media, social networks, or even the crew members of the ships involved.

- 83% of the vessels interacted were of foreign origin (16% from Portugal and 67% of other nationalities), while 17% were from Spain, the language hinders official and radio communications and subsequent contacts.

- Although with slight differences between 2020 and 2021, the ships interacted were mainly French (20%) and English (15%), with the rest (17%) being made up of a wide variety of countries (Belgium, Holland, Scotland, Germany, Brazil , Ireland, Ukraine, Poland, Australia and the United States). For this reason, the crews did not know which entity they should contact to report what had happened, and, although in 2021 the information collection channel had been improved, it is impossible to reach all the crew members.

- In those cases in which the interactions did not cause significant damage to the ships, the skippers decided to continue their navigation route, and did not stop at port. In addition to this fact, it must be added that, on the high seas, it is very difficult to establish communication with the vessels, which is why detailed information on some cases is not available.

- Some sailors are reluctant to pass on information about these episodes for fear of interfering with insurers (given that in some cases they know that they have used methods, in an attempt to dissuade, that are illegal - such as flares, boat hooks, gasoline, march back,...) or because they distrust that the process of collecting information by the GTOA, being formed mostly by entities for the study and conservation of cetaceans that, they consider, goes against their interests.


All these issues conditioned and limited the work of collecting information carried out by the GTOA. Despite all these reasons, the following results have been obtained from the study of the 239 cases:

- Information has been collected on 164 vessels (69% of the total) through:

o Complete and detailed examination of 19 ships.

o Information has been received from another 145 boats, including in most cases telephone contact with the skippers, and the receipt of information, photographs and videos, by email or WhatsApp.

o A total of 471 photographs of the animals and 274 videos were received, which together amounted to a total of 5 hours.

- In 31.8% of the remaining cases, the information available is partial, and has been collected indirectly (press, social networks, etc.), not having been able to establish contact with the crews for various reasons. For this reason, in some of these cases there is not enough information on whether or not there was damage to the vessels (10.5% of the total) although it is presumed that, if there was, it would be minor and would allow them to continue sailing, given that the trailers are registered through the Maritime Salvage services. Table 2 collects the information of data provided, or not, between the years 2020 and 2021.

Alfredo López Fernández y Ruth Esteban Pavo (Coord). 2021. Elaboración de un estudio científico sobre la interacción de la población de Orca (Orcinus orca) del Estrecho de Gibraltar con embarcaciones para el diseño y propuesta de medidas de prevención, actuación y gestión. Grupo de Trabajo Orca Atlántica-GTOA/Coordinadora para o Estudo dos Mamíferos Mariños-CEMMA y Grupo de Trabajo Orca Atlántica-GTOA. Nombres de los autores. proyecto LIFE INTEMARES. Fundación Biodiversidad.