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Portugal bans tourist boats from approaching orcas after series of incidents

LISBON — Portugal on Tuesday banned tourist boats from approaching pods of orcas and issued instructions on what to do when approached by the so-called killer whales after a series of incidents in the past few years off the Portuguese and Spanish coasts.

Portugal’s Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) said the ban, which mainly applies to boats offering whale-watching trips, would be in force until the end of the year.

It also said that whenever orcas are sighted and trying to approach, boats should move away to avoid contact, and if they are already close, such vessels need to stop, leaving the engine running, until the animals leave.

A series of incidents involving orcas and mostly sailboats have been reported since 2020 off the Iberian Peninsula coast and the Strait of Gibraltar, where orcas have bumped the boats’ hulls and rudders, causing damage that in some cases has led to their sinking or the coastguard having to tow boats to shore.

Smaller maritime tourist vessels licensed for whale-watching have also been targeted, ICFN said.

It said “the reason for this recent and repetitive behavior toward vessels is not known,” but it was now clear that the number of the cetaceans involved in such interactions has grown since the initial reports.

Adult orcas can reach up to nine meters (29.53 ft) in length and weigh over six tons.

More than 200 interactions between orcas and boats were recorded last year off the Atlantic coast of Portugal and Spain, according to data from research group GTOA, which tracks populations of the Iberian orca sub-species.

Although known as killer whales, highly social orcas are part of the dolphin family. They usually feed on fish, penguins and seals. In the wild, they are not known to attack humans. — Reuters

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