Searching for Orcas with eagle eyes

by firmm Team

Text: Brigitte, photos: firmm

After few Orca sightings in July, the largest of all dolphins delighted us 13 times in August.

From August 10th-20th, we even saw them eleven days in a row.
It was always the same group consisting of 8-9 animals. We could clearly identify 8 of them.

Among them were some animals we had known for a long time, such as the matriarch and Camorro. A young male, which we named Rivera, had also joined them. We chose the name because it is one of the surnames of our mechanic David, who often spots animals at incredible distances with his eagle eyes.

And that's what happened on this 20th of August. We left the harbour with Levante 3-4. David stood on top of the boat, on the small platform that is even above the fly deck, in order to have an excellent overall view. For the windier it is, the more difficult it gets to spot the animals in the whitecaps. But David wouldn't be David if after a while he had not casually remarked that there were Orcas at 13 o'clock.
Without the help of binoculars, just with his sharp eyesight. Apart from seeing like a lynx, he also has an incredible sense of where the animals might be and in which direction he should look. We all started cheering like children, relieved that David could find the white and black dolphins so quickly, even in this weather.

Except for the matriarch and Camorro, who only interact with the fishermen, the other animals of this said group also interact with sailboats. We also noticed another change in their behaviour. They used to stay with the fishermen more often. Now the pattern is different. They go tuna fishing themselves more often and are not with the men in their small fishing boats as much. This year we met them a few times alone, or possibly only with 1-2 boats in their proximity. What remained the same, however, was the place where we see them, above the underwater mountain. Because of the shallower water depth, it is more convenient for them to prey there. The area where we observed them covered about 2-3 km2.

Back to the tour on the 20th of August. Camorro and Rivera were swimming under the boat. The wind had meanwhile picked up to force 4, which made the way back pretty rough. We saw Pilot Whales in the high waves before we entered Tarifa harbour in a sudden dense fog.

Two days before, we also had a great trip. Already on the two-hour tour, we were informed that the Orcas were closer than usual (around west longitude 40, instead of the usual 43).
The early morning fog had lifted and a special guest, the ARTE television team, accompanied us. We actually met the Orcas as announced. It was also the group of 8 on this day. Seven Orcas provided us with a unique sight when they appeared synchronously next to each other.
On the following three-hour trip, we found them again, this time a bit more to the west on longitude 41. This time they surprised us with numerous jumps in the high waves. At least 3-4 animals jumped up about 10-15 times. Rarely have we seen so many on one trip.

In these days of August, unfortunately, a regrettable incident has occurred in the Strait of Gibraltar. The crew of a catamaran shot at the Orcas on August 17th to keep them away. Fortunately, the incident was filmed. The Orcas are protected in Spain and are on the endangered species list. The police is investigating and fortunately there will probably be consequences for the people involved. See the video.

The last time we saw the Orcas this summer was on 20th August. Maybe they will visit us again in September or October? Who knows. In any case, they attracted a lot of attention and interest.

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