Killer whales have been causing a stir in the waters off the Iberian Peninsula for the past three years. According to the Atlantic Orca Working Group, a team of Spanish and Portuguese marine life researchers, these orcas have been targeting boats in a wide arc from the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain’s northwestern Galicia. Reports of incidents have reached both British and Spanish services, prompting concerns about the orcas’ unusual behavior.
The killer whales in question are part of a small group estimated at about 35 whales that spend most of their time in pursuit of red tuna. These are much smaller than the orcas of Antarctica, averaging between about 16-21 feet in length, or five to 6 ½ meters. Researchers are not sure why the Iberian orcas have been behaving this way. One theory is that they are trying to adapt to changes in the area caused by overfishing, pollution, or other issues.
In response to the reports, Pacific Whale Foundation launched an “OrcaWatch” project to research and document the behavior and movements of the orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar. Many vessels have been chartered and equipped with state-of-the-art tagging technology to keep track of the orcas.
In addition, the Spanish Ministry of Environment has created a safety zone around the Strait of Gibraltar to help protect both people and the orcas from any potentially dangerous encounters. They are also encouraging all vessels in the area to be extra cautious when traveling in case they come across the orcas.
Despite the recent attention the Iberian orcas have been receiving, it’s still unclear why they are targeting boats. The Atlantic Orca Working Group and Pacific Whale Foundation continue to research and monitor their movements in order to better understand and protect them. In the meantime, everyone in the area is encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and to stay safe.