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If you see a killer whale, ‘never enter the water.’ What to do during an orca encounter, according to a whale expert.

People in a boat watching an orca whale swim toward them.Orca whales are curious animals that will approach your boat.

Portland Press Herald / Contributor / Getty Images

  • A whale expert told Khaleej Times you should “never enter the water” if you see a killer whale.
  • Killer whales, or orcas, can be vicious hunters and will sometimes attack boats. 
  • If you see an orca, try to maintain your distance, and turn off your engine, the expert said. 

Orcas keep attacking sailboats, and nobody is sure why.

The last three years have seen hundreds of boat-orca interactions off the coasts of Portugal, Spain, and Morocco, including attacks where the animals repeatedly ram a sailboat and cause damage. There was even one incident where killer whales sank a sailboat.

The flood of orca ambushes has prompted boaters and scientists to put their heads together and come up with guidelines for dealing with a killer whale attack.

What to do during an orca encounter

Experts say if you see any whales near you in the ocean, you should “never enter the water.”

“What I always suggest to the public is, not just whales but even with [small] dolphins, never enter the water,” Ada Natoli, a professor at Zayed University Abu Dhabi and Founder of the UAE Dolphin Project Initiative, told Khaleej Times.

“Never swim with these animals because they are much bigger than us, even the small dolphins,” Natoli added. “One can observe them from a kayak or paddle boat but always refrain from swimming with them.”

A person in a yellow kayak on the water paddling near an orca whale.Orcas do not dine on humans so if you encounter one, just keep your distance and you should be safe.

Nigel Killeen / Contributor / Getty Images

Luckily, there have never been any recorded fatal orca attacks on humans in the wild, Natoli told Khaleej Times. They have a varied diet consisting of seals, sea lions, fish, penguins, and other whales but have never shown an appetite for humans.

That said, orcas — which can grow up to 30 feet long, about the length of two cars — can still be incredibly dangerous, not just for their sheer size, but also for their vicious hunting abilities.

The backs of a pod of whales are shown on the surface of the water. In the background are green mountains.A pod of Southern Resident killer whales.

David K. Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research, permit number: NMFS 21238.

Natoli also explained to Khaleej Times that if you see an orca, you should keep a distance of about 50 to 100 meters (164 to 328 feet), and turn off your engine or, at the very least, slow down. 

“Try not to approach them from the back or from the front, stay on their side instead,” Natoli told Khaleej Times.

Moreover, if you see one far away, don’t be surprised if it ventures closer.

“They are pretty curious animals, so they will most of the time approach the boat. Usually, the public gets a chance to see them quite closely without disturbing. Us approaching them is quite different from them approaching us,” Natoli added.

Natoli’s advice lines up with guidelines published by the Groupo Trabajo Orca Atlantica (GTOA) — Atlantic orca working group — in a collaboration between boaters and scientists. Here’s what they recommend if an orca approaches your boat:

  • “Disconnect autopilot to avoid damage and let the wheel/tiller run free. Keep hands away from wheel or tiller to avoid injury;
  • Stop the boat, de-power and drop/furl sails;
  • In conditions that make it safe to do so attempt to go slowly in reverse
  • Contact the authorities on VHF 16 or by phone on 112;
  • Keep a low profile on deck to minimise the interest to the orcas;
  • Keep a firm hold when moving around to prevent injury in the event of ramming;
  • Take photograph or video evidence whilst keeping a low profile. Make a note of location co-ordinates and timing of the interaction along with any other relevant details including the behaviour of the orcas for future reporting;
  • After the interaction ceases wait for several minutes to allow the orcas to move away from the area before any interest is re-gained.”

Orcas exist in every ocean in the world, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And because of that, orca sightings can be relatively rare or common depending on where you live. 

For example, in the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest, Bigg’s killer whales and humpback whales were spotted on a record 75% of whale-watching outings in 2022, according to local outlet Go Skagit.

By contrast, in the United Arab Emirates, Natoli told Khaleej Times that sightings are rare in the region, with only about one every year and a half. 

Read the original article on Business Insider
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