NW Spain: Orca Activity Increasing – Daily Tally of Yachts Damaged

With boat owners leaving the Med to get home to northern Europe for the winter and transAtlantic yachts departing northern Europe for departure from further south, the Atlantic waters off the Iberian peninusula are busy right now. Unfortunately not just with yachts. [scroll down to read comments from cruisers that have been intercepted by orcas]

Published 1 year ago

With boat owners leaving the Med to get home to northern Europe for the winter and transAtlantic yachts departing northern Europe for departure across the pond from further south, the Atlantic waters off the Iberian peninusula are busy right now. Unfortunately not just with yachts.

The widely reported orcas that have plagued yachts this year off Gibraltar and southern Spain, now appear to be migrating north. In the last week interactions have been reported off Portugal and southern Galicia.

Orca Activity Moves North

  • On Wednesday 22nd September, a British yacht attempting to get home was accosted by orcas approximately 50 miles south of Cascais, Portugal at 23:00 hrs. Read an account of their experience on the Med Sailing Facebook page. A damaged rudder meant they had to be towed into Cascais for repairs and their passage home aborted for this year.
  • On Thursday 23rd September,  the Orca Iberica group confirmed there was an interaction between orcas and a yacht in French waters. On the same day there was a group of orcas interacting off Peniche (north of Cascais), and another one in Sines (south of Cascais).
  • Christopher Mackins reports on meeting orcas in the middle of the night off Peniche  – he has posted about his experience at the bottom of this report under comments.
  • On Thursday 30th September, the local newspaper La Voz de Galicia reported that orcas had returned to Galicia once more. A double-handed British yacht departing Baiona in the Ria de Vigo bound south for Portugal, encountered orcas off A Guarda, at the mouth of the River Minho (the border between Spain and Portugal). Rudder damage forced a tow by the Salvamento north to Cangas for repairs.
  • At the start of October, some of the Mini Transat fleet pulled into Baiona due to approaching weather and a number of them reported orca attacks. The OCC report them being “thrown around like dinghies by the whales”. The aluminium mini 650 support boat’s rudder was badly damaged and a few of the minis were hit pretty hard and spun around a bit, with some damage to steering linkages.
  • On 1st October, La Voz de Galicia reported that a French Boat, “Le Sterne”, with three crew on board, had lost its rudder off the island of Salvora (off Ria de Pontevedra, NW Galicia). They were just 1.5 miles off the island and encountered the whales at midday. The local coastguard towed them to Ribeira for repairs.
  • On 3rd October, at 2300 just off Cape Finisterre, a Swan 441 (SY Carissa from Finland) en-route from La Coruna to Portugal, was intercepted by orcas. The Spanish Coastguard responded to their Mayday call and at 0130 took them under tow for repairs. The Orcas continued to bump the boat until shallow water was reached. Read one crew member’s account of the experience here.
  • See further reports below in comments.

Advice and Resources for Concerned Skippers:

How to make the whales go away if Orcas show an interest in your boat is something every skipper transiting this coast wants to know. The Atlantic Orca Working Group have  recommendations, but there does not appear to be a clear method that works every time. Chats on cruiser forums show that skippers are trying their own tactics from deploying a dinghy into the water to act as a distraction to putting the boat in reverse to deter the orcas.

Christopher Mackins reports on meeting orcas in the middle of the night off Peniche and sensing they were excited and trying to communicate (see his comment below). Conversely, a Swan 441 intercepted off Cape Finisterre this month felt they were assaulted by the orca for several hours.

Henry Buchanan, author of Atlantic Spain and Portugal, recommends the Orca Iberica Website as a good source of information. Now posted under “Last Interactions > Recommendations” is a plan with a traffic light system on the forecast Orca migration route off Galicia that should be of help to concerned skippers. This is updated every 24 hours based on information received from boaters and rescue services, interactions and sightings.

The FAQ section of the website is interesting and should help to provide some reassurance for skippers.

Henry also shared the BBC map of the orca migration route first published in 2020 (see above). He told Noonsite, “I was in correspondence with a Galician recently who told me that the Orca were being seen from shore much closer in than they ever used to be”.

The OCC recommends avoiding transiting the waters off Galicia in NW Spain until later in October.


Do share what worked for you if you have encountered the whales this year, by posting a comment on the bottom of this report.


Related Links:


Noonsite has not independently verified this information.

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  1. January 21, 2022 at 3:19 PM
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    sue-richards says:

    From the Med Sailing FB page today (21st January, 2022):
    We have just taken an Orca attack about 3 miles west of Cascais. Be aware they are currently here.
    We have rudder damage and are heading back to Cascais port. The attack lasted around 30 minutes. We shut off the engine and electronics but were advised my the MRCC to put the engine on and use reverse. It seemed to have worked. I counted 4 orcas and we are a Dufour 56 on engine at the time of the attack.

  2. November 11, 2021 at 9:23 PM
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    sue-richards says:

    Good article by Andy Pag for Yachting Monthly magazine discussing why the orcas have been interacting with yachts and how you can protect your boat.

  3. November 4, 2021 at 11:27 AM
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    sue-richards says:

    Reported on Lagos Navigators – Facebook Group – yesterday [https://www.facebook.com/groups/1882605541968896/]

    Just spoken to a friend who works for the lifeboat service in Cascais. They went out 5am yesterday to tow a disabled yacht in that had had an encounter with Orcas. The tow took 5 hours because of the sea state and because, as he pointed out, boats with broken rudders don’t tow straight, they zigzag all over the place.
    He says he has personally spoken to six skippers of boats currently in Cascais marina waiting on rudder replacement or repair.

  4. October 12, 2021 at 12:30 AM
    mrchris says:

    I met these Orca just south of Peniche at midnight at slack water doing less than 2 knots. I am in a Colvic 27, 40 years old and with long keel and transom hug rudder. It is only my opinion but I would say these guys are playing in the slack water break between hunting/feeding. First these are pygmy Orca around 4 times the size of a full grown dolphin. I became aware of them only when my tillerpilot started to part company with the tiller. The sound of the bracket screws tearing out of the tiller arm alerted me, there was no sign of anthing except one Orca standing vertical in the water looking at me. When I moved back to grab the rudder the sea started boiling with Orca rushing around and numerous bubble rings appeared all around the stern. About 30 metres away on my stern quarter a tight group of around 13 Orca were vertical in the water and watching me, 3 Orca were pushing the rudder which I could resist with the tiller. I started the engine and they backed off, when I started the propeller they all left. It seemed quite obvious to me that this was a joke and that we have no sense of humour, Orca humour that is. They were clearly really excited when the pink wriggly thing on top of the boat started rushing around in response to their actions with the rudder.
    My basic job is communication and these guys are communicating in their way, those scientists who are sending tin cans into space in the hope of talking to aliens should be taking an interest in this, if they can’t communicate, at least in a basic way, with our own ocean aliens then they maybe should look for a new job. I strongly felt that I could have played with them with some preparation, maybe some balls or a light show. They showed no aggression, only excitement.

    1. November 7, 2021 at 7:12 PM
      lurxl says:

      That sounds like a very memorable experience! Take a laser pointer with you next time you cross there! 🙂

  5. October 7, 2021 at 11:16 AM
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    sue-richards says:

    Passed on by the OCC:
    Two more reports this morning.

    One north of Cascais, Portugal – https://24.sapo.pt/atualidade/artigos/veleiro-a-deriva-socorrido-apos-contacto-com-orcas-ao-largo-do-cabo-da-roca

    And three near Finisterre, NW Spain – https://www.facebook.com/andrii.klymenko/posts/4275873769197306