Report on Orcas (Orcinus orca)

Orcas (Orcinus orca) stay in the Strait from April to November according to our long-term data collection. According to other researchers, they spend the winter in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of southern Spain and Portugal.

Position Orcas 1999–2015
Positions of Orcas from 1999 to 2015

The Orcas stay in the area of the Strait and surroundings from April to November to feed mainly on tuna. According to other researchers, they spend the winter in the Atlantic off the coast of southern Spain and Portugal, may be also Morocco.

In the Strait of Gibraltar, Orcas feed mainly on tuna, which they pick from the hookes of local fishermen. Orca calves in particular can capture larger fish in this way and survive the first year better than calves from pods that do not approach the fishermen. It is interesting to note that on Fridays, when Moroccan tuna fishermen do not work, there are no Orcas in the area.

As tuna stocks in the Strait continue to decline, a tuna quota was introduced in 2008, which means that fishermen can now fish as long as they have quota, regardless of how many tunas they lose to the Orcas. Meanwhile there is a law from the Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente for the protection of the Orcas, which recommends to allocate a larger catch quota to the dropline fishermen in order to increase the survival probability of the Orca calves. Actually, this should have defused the tense situation between fishermen and Orcas, which is apparently not the case.

Keydata from annual reports

2005

Very few sightings of Orcas. The most probable reason is an overfishing of the Red Tuna stock.

2006

The Orcas have often been spotted this year, although tuna is rare since the stock is overfished. Instead, they have concentrated on smaller fish that they pick from the longlines of Tarifa's fishermen.

Orcas have been chased by Pilot Whales, a behaviour that has also been recorded by other observers.

The Orcas have divided into two pods, a young male, which is now fully sexually mature, has formed a new pod with four animals. The oldest male (Camacho) continues to roam through the waters off Tarifa with other 12 individuals. A third pod of about 9-12 animals, with a full-grown male with a bent down dorsal fin, is mainly found off Barbate (40 km north of Tarifa). The injury at the dorsal fin was caused by the cut of a fishing line, the male was first seen with a female on April 07th, 2004 at 14:00 in front of Punta Cires.

2007

Even though the tuna stock is being overfished, Orcas showed up quiet frequently. Besides the sightings during the "classic" period of time of July and August, we have had some of them also in October. This unusual space of time suggests the Orcas may stay longer in the Strait than initially observed.

2008

Orcas have been less visible this year.

It is known that the bluefin tuna would have to be protected if it was to be prevented from disappearing as a "protein resource".

This also affects the Orcas, which have split into two pods. The pod with the younger male was only spotted on a few days and then disappeared from the Strait of Gibraltar. The larger pod, with the same individuals returning for years, stayed for about 2 months and then also left the southern area of the Strait abruptly, where they had stayed with the Moroccan fishermen.

2009

  • Less Orca-sightings than last season
  • The pod with the young male has not been sighted at all
  • The large pod with the regularly returning Orcas has been spotted only during 8 days

Since the quota greatly reduced the amount of tunas taken by the fishermen, for the Orcas it does not pay off any more to wait for them.

2010

  • 11 orca-sightings
  • Smallest pod: 2 animals
  • Largest pod: 13 animals (July 12th)
  • The young male was sighted once on July 13th

The tuna season lasts only 2 weeks since the introduction of the quota, that is why the Orcas stay only a short time waiting for the fishrmen to do their job.

2011

  • 38 orca-sightings
  • Smallest pod: 3 animals
  • Largest pod: 17 animals (August 4th)
  • Largest pods in August

Orcas were sighted for the first time in the Bay of Gibraltar on October 4th. There were 7 animals, one of which was an unknown male. It could be the rarely sighted young male, whose appearance may have changed due to the rapid growth of the dorsal fin once they attain sexual maturity.

Although the tuna season has only lasted about 2 weeks since 2009 with the introduction of the tuna quota, the Orcas have been more frequent this season as they have switched to the Moroccan fishermen who do not adhere to the quotas. Last season they seemed to avoid the same fishermen.

2012

  • 59 orca-sightings
  • Smallest pod: 3 animals
  • Largest pod: 14 animals (September 19th)
  • Larger pods more common in August

Although the tuna season has only lasted about 2 weeks since 2009 with the introduction of the tuna quota, the Orcas have been more frequent this season as they have switched to the Moroccan fishermen, who they had avoided in 2010.

2013

  • 56 orca-sightings
  • Smallest pod: 3 animals
  • Largest pod: 16 animals
  • Larger pods more common in July (one month earlier than last season)
  • Juli 24th: pack with 4 calves

2014

  • 88 Orca-sightings (calm summer, many trips possible)
  • Sighting period: June 26th to October 7th
  • Smallest pod: 3 animals
  • Largest pod: 16 animals (3 of them were calves)
  • One newborn sighted on August 8th for the first time
  • Larger pods of more than 8 Orcas more common in July and August

2015

  • 112 Orca-sightings (calm summer, many trips possible)
  • Sighting period: May 1st (one month earlier than last season) to August 27th (almost 2 month earlier)
  • Smallest pod: 2 animals
  • Largest pod: 16 animals (two of them calves)
  • No newborn
    (Last years newborn was probably killed in fishing gear, the same accident led to the loss of the right pectoral fin of the mother.)
  • Larger pods of more than 8 animals more common in July and August

2016

  • 96 Orca-sightings (calm summer, many trips possible)
  • Sighting period: July 1st to August 21st
  • Smallest pod: 2 animals
  • Largest pod: 20 animals (3 of them calves)
  • No newborn
  • Larger pods of more than 8 animals more common in July and August
    With the exception of a sighting of 12 Orcas on April 6th. Only one more time we spotted them so early in the season, it was April 7th of 2004
  • Draft of regulations by the Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente to protect the Orcas
  • Also in January the Orcas have been spotted by fishermen (it is supposed they normally stay off the southern Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal during winter)

2017

  • 53 Orca-sightings
  • Sighting period: June 30th to September 19th
  • Smallest pod: 3 animals
  • Largest pod: 14 animals (4 of them being calves)
  • One newborn, offspring of the female "Lucía" (the same that did loose her former calf and her right pectoral fin between 2015 and 2016 through an accident with fishing gear)
  • Larger pods with more than 8 animals more common in July and August (among them 3 adult males, one of them named "Camorro" by us, beeing probably the father of the newborn
  • The number of sightings depend on the strength of winds, which affect the number of possible trips
  • The "Orca Protection Law" went into force

2018

  • Sighting period: June 28th to October 17th
  • 18 Orca-sightings in only 9 days
  • Smallest pod: 2 animals on June 30th
  • Largest pod: 15 animals (5 of them beeing calves), spotted on July 3rd and 12th and October 17th
  • One newborn accompanied by 6-15 adult Orcas
    - First sighted on June 28th
    - More sightings at July 12th and October 11th and 17th
  • Larger pods with 13-15 animals in October, among them three adult males, one beeing the well known Camorro

Although the tuna season has only lasted about 2 weeks since 2009 with the introduction of the tuna quota, the Orcas have been more frequent this season as they have switched to the Moroccan fishermen who do not adhere to the quotas. Last season they seemed to avoid the same fishermen.

The tuna fishing season ran from June 28th to the end of August, a total of 65 days - but during this time we could only find Orcas on 7 days. The fishermen's avoidance could be connected with the fact that they are illegally trying to drive the Orcas out by all means. Other researchers have also observed that the Orcas find enough tuna further west above the Majuán shoals to hunt on their own. (Whale-watching is prohibited in the “Banco Majuán” area.)

For firmm reports sorted by years (in German) check out firmm-education.