Orca Attacks on Boats Surge in Strait of Gibraltar, Prompting Warnings

Spanish authorities warn small vessels to exercise caution when navigating the Strait of Gibraltar during summer months due to a surge in orca attacks on boats, with a specific pod of 15 individuals believed to be responsible for the aggressive behavior, which experts attribute to possible motivations such as playful curiosity, social fad, or defense mechanism." This description focuses on the primary topic of orca attacks on boats, the main entities involved (Spanish authorities, orcas, and small vessels), the context of the Strait of Gibraltar, and the significant actions and implications of the warning. The description also provides objective and relevant details that will help an AI generate an accurate visual representation of the article's content, such as the setting, the type of vessels involved, and the orcas' behavior.

Aqsa Younas Rana
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Orca Attacks on Boats Surge in Strait of Gibraltar, Prompting Warnings

Orca Attacks on Boats Surge in Strait of Gibraltar, Prompting Warnings

Spanish authorities are urging small vessels to stick close to the coastline when traversing the Strait of Gibraltar after a recent surge in orca attacks on boats. On Sunday, an orca rammed a 15-meter boat in Moroccan waters, damaging its rudder and causing a leak. The two people on board were rescued by a passing oil tanker before their boat sank.

Why this matters: The surge in orca attacks on boats in the Strait of Gibraltar raises concerns about the safety of maritime traffic and the potential for human-orca conflicts. As the orca population continues to grow, understanding the motivations behind their behavior is crucial to developing effective strategies for coexistence and minimizing the risk of accidents.

Spain's ministries for transport and the environment, along with its merchant marines, have issued notices warning small vessels to beware of orcas between May and August in the area between the Strait of Gibraltar and the Gulf of Cadiz. According to the Atlantic Orca Working Group, there were 197 known interactions between orcas and boats in 2021 and 207 in 2022.

The orcas involved in these attacks are believed to be part of a subpopulation of about 15 individuals known as the "Gladis" pod. Experts are still unsure about the motivation behind their behavior. Leading theories include playful curiosity, a social fad among the orcas, or intentionally targeting what they perceive as competitors for their favorite prey, the local bluefin tuna.

Monika Wieland Shields, director of the Orca Behavior Institute, suggests the ramming could be a defense mechanism based on previous trauma. "In 2020, there were some photos of these orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar that showed some injuries that were pretty consistent with possible interactions with fishing boats," she said. Renaud de Stephanis, president of CIRCE Conservación Information and Research, proposes the orcas' actions are a game that will likely stop as they mature.

The Iberian orcas, an endangered subpopulation, can reach lengths of 5 to 61⁄2 meters (16-21 feet) and weigh up to six tonnes as adults. Despite their power and size, authorities have not reported any attacks on swimmers. The interactions with boats seem to stop once the vessel is immobilized.

With nearly 700 reported interactions between orcas and ships in the region since May 2020, Spanish authorities are taking precautions. They recommend small vessels, including sailing boats and motorboats, stick to the coastline in the Strait of Gibraltar, especially during the summer months, to minimize the risk of encountering these enigmatic marine mammals.

Key Takeaways

  • Spain warns small vessels to beware of orcas in Strait of Gibraltar due to recent attacks.
  • 197 known orca-boat interactions in 2021, 207 in 2022; most involve "Gladis" pod.
  • Motivations behind orca behavior unknown, but theories include play, social fad, or defense.
  • Orcas target boats, not swimmers; interactions stop once vessel is immobilized.
  • Authorities recommend small vessels stick to coastline in Strait of Gibraltar during summer.