On the 21st of February, SeaEO-Tours team received a VHF communication with a MAYDAY (distress call) resulting from an orca attack, when finishing another dolphin watching tour, near Meco.
We quickly tried to understand the distance they were from us and, without hesitation, we went to their aid.
It was a 12 meter sailboat with 4 people on board. The boat was about 3 Nautical Miles West of Cape Espichel adrift because of contact with four Orcas that broke the rudder.
Arriving at the place, we verified that all crew was well and with life jackets. The Orcas had already gone their way. When we were preparing the tow, the ISN (Instituto de Socorros a Náufragos – National Maritime Authority), also arrived at the site, which took them safely to Sesimbra port.
Sidónio Paes, Managing Partner of SeaEO-Tours and marine biologist, is collaborating with the Orca Atlântica Working Group. He emphasizes that “We cannot forget that we are in the natural habitat of the Orcas. There is always a risk, but what we can do is mitigate this new behavior. We have to understand how we can defend ourselves without hurting them”.
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of attacks by Orcas on sailboats in the Iberian Peninsula, which, in most cases, result in the rudder becoming demaged. There is no record of direct attacks on humans.
It is not known for sure what is the origin to this interaction between Orcas and sailboats. The topic has been well followed since August 2020, when the first interaction took place, by groups of marine biologists and is the subject of studies. Although there are no final conclusions, the attacks reported so far are triggered by females and juveniles, quite well studied by the biologist communities of the Iberian Peninsula.
Portuguese news on the subject: