A new Ecological Transition project will promote the tagging of killer whales to reduce interaction with vessels

News - 2023.5.30

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During the summer and autumn of 2020, episodes of interaction between several killer whales (Orcinus orca) and vessels, mainly sailing boats, began to occur both in the Strait of Gibraltar and in the waters off the Galician coast. These events have continued to occur in subsequent years.

The Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge is promoting the satellite tagging of six killer whales, in collaboration with CIRCE (Conservation, Information and Study of Cetaceans).

As part of this project, satellite tagging of a killer whale, which had previously been identified as one of the individuals interacting with the vessels, has already been carried out.

The information provided by this satellite tag will make it possible - during the period in which the device is operational - to identify its location in the previous few hours and to draw up a weekly map of the approximate area in which this killer whale has been moving during this period. This information will be shared with the competent administrations, which will disseminate it to the attention of mariners, to try to minimise the risk of interaction by avoiding or minimising navigation in these areas.


In addition, the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, through the LIFE INTEMARES project, which is coordinated by the Ministry's Biodiversity Foundation, and in collaboration with the CIRCE organisation, began a pilot project last summer to try to minimise killer whale interactions with sailing boats in the Strait of Gibraltar.

This work is a continuation of the scientific study carried out at the end of 2021 by the Coordinadora para el Estudio de los Mamíferos Marinos and the Orca Atlántica Working Group on the episodes of interaction between the killer whale population and sailing boats in the waters of Galicia and the Strait of Gibraltar. Among its conclusions, it called for the testing of techniques to minimise interactions and to deepen knowledge of the species' habits.

Following these recommendations, this demonstration pilot project aims to test different devices and navigation techniques in order to provide clear guidelines, especially for sailing boats, to ensure their safe navigation. At the same time, the development of actions aimed at de-habituating killer whales to boats will be sought.

Orcinus orca

The killer whale (Orcinus orca) is an intelligent, social marine mammal that is regularly present in the waters under Spanish jurisdiction, from the Strait of Gibraltar and the Atlantic coasts of the Gulf of Cadiz and Galicia, to the Cantabrian Sea, where it finds essential habitats for feeding. Individuals are organised in stable social groups and are spatially and seasonally associated with the bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) stock, which triggers their migratory movements.

This population is listed as vulnerable in the Spanish Catalogue of Threatened Species formulated by Royal Decree 139/2011 of 4 February. For the species included in this catalogue, Article 57 of Law 42/2007 of 13 December on Natural Heritage and Biodiversity prohibits any action taken with the aim of killing, capturing, persecuting or disturbing them.

Non official translation