What to do during an orca encounter

Published on November 9th, 2021

In Yachting Monthly, Andy Pag explores why orcas have been damaging yachts off Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar, and how to protect your boat:

Being chased, bumped and gnarled at by a pod of orcas was “a mix of horror and love,” says Yara Tibirica who encountered the animals while sailing her 35ft live-aboard catamaran, Slughunter.

“It’s a rare privilege to see such mighty and majestic orcas in the wild but when they are threatening your home the sight is double-edged.”

Yara and her husband Jon Wright had decided to stay 1.5 miles offshore on their passage from Cadiz to Gibraltar in July this year, after reading the trickle of information on social media about encounters with this semi-resident pod in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Since the start of the year, orcas have been nudging boats to bring them to a halt, and gnawing at their rudders, leaving sailors shaken and stranded, in many cases relying on salvage tows to get them back to shore.

Commonly known as ‘killer whales’, orca are not, in fact, whales, but the largest member of the dolphin family. Orcinus orca can live to 80 years old, growing up to 9.75m (32ft) and weighing up to six tons.

In the eight months between June 2020 and March 2021, there were 52 reported encounters around the Iberian coast, but there were more than 27 in July of this year alone in the Gibraltar Strait. Initially smaller monohulls were targeted, but now even larger 50ft catamarans have reported approaches.

Depth sounders on or off, under sail or motor, day or night, the hull colour – it has not yet been possible to pin down a common factor. – Full report

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