Killer whales continue to pose a threat to vessels. | Majorca Daily Bulletin reporter


Last year, a group of killer whales once again attacked a sailing yacht on its way to Palma to take part in the Copa del Rey regatta and today, as the cruising season arrives along the Atlantic coasts of France, Portugal, Spain and through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean and to the Balearics, the Cruising Association (CA) urges vigilance for potential orca encounters.

The CA continues to share information on precautions and protocols to minimise the risk of encounters and provide guidance on actions to take if an encounter occurs. The CA’s dedicated orca information and reporting portal at provides a wide range of resources available in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Around fifteen of a population of less than fifty orcas have caused damage to numerous small vessels, at least four of which have sunk. The damage typically affects the rudders and crews can usually make their way to a safe port. To date no-one has reported being seriously injured.

Be Safe, Be Prepared

Since June 2022, the CA has been instrumental in collecting and sharing reports and data on orca interactions along this coastline. In early 2023 there was an escalation in interactions, and there is no reason to indicate the situation will ease in 2024. John Burbeck, CA Orca Project Team Lead, stresses the need for skippers and crews to familiarise themselves with protocols to mitigate potential encounters, saying, “By being prepared and prioritising safety and awareness, skippers can reduce the risk of meeting orca while navigating the affected waters.”

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Past behaviour indicates orca typically remain around the Strait of Gibraltar from April to early July as the bluefin tuna exit the Mediterranean, before locating west and north. However, their movements vary each year, making long-term predictions challenging. Although most yachts avoid orca encounters, understanding risks and knowing how to minimise the likelihood of an interaction is crucial.

Orca Locations

Skippers should be aware of the danger zones for orca interactions. In 2023, this extended as far north as Brest in France and through the Bay of Biscay, Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar Straits, north Moroccan coast and along Spain’s Mediterranean coastline. During late April to October, as boats transit the affected waters, the likelihood of encountering orcas increases. Skippers should stay informed of current orca locations, hotspots and trends, which will aid in route planning and decision making.

After four years and hundreds of incidents, researchers remain puzzled why orcas, also known as killer whales, continue to ram boats – sinking a few of them – along the Iberian Peninsula. The origin of these interactions remain a “great mystery,” said Alfredo López, a University of Santiago biologist, but he does not believe the behavior is aggressive. Orcas are large dolphins, López said. And like dolphins, the events could stem from the orcas’ curious and playful behavior, such as trying to race the boats.

López, who specialises in orcas, and his team, Grupo de trabajo Orca Atlántica (GOTA), have tracked these encounters since 2020. The team’s recent study theorizes the orcas could also be exhibiting cautionary behavior because of some previous traumatic incident. GOTA has tracked more than 350 interactions just on the Iberian Peninsula since 2020. Most have taken place along the Strait of Gibraltar, but the orcas’ mischief or self-defense may be spreading north. An incident was reported in June in the Shetland Islands in Scotland.