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The sea is home to many creatures, big and small. In its waters dwell many mysteries. One of those mysteries is the Orca, the largest, most powerful predator on the planet.

Yet there is not a single documented case of an Orca injuring or killing a human being in the wild. They could easily do so if they wanted to. A human is no match for an Orca if an Orca decided that we were fair game.

But the very fact that there has never been a fatality from a wild Orca indicates a very sophisticated level of intelligence. Perhaps they have figured out that we are simply too dangerous to mess with or maybe we just aren’t appetizing enough. We simply don’t know but what we do know based on all documented evidence is that orcas do not represent a threat to human life.

I once had an encounter with a pod of Orcas in the wild in the Straits of Bella Bella in the waters of British Columbia. I was in the water in the path of an oncoming pod of transient Orcas, the ones that prey on seals and seal lions. I watched them approach and then disappear and when the pod surfaced again, they did so right alongside me and without thinking I reached for a passing dorsal fin and suddenly I was being pulled through the sea for a few hundred meters until I lost my grasp and tumbled into the Orca’s wake.

I was amazed, the most powerful predator on the planet had allowed me to hitch a ride and without any negative consequence to myself.

As they moved on up the Strait, all I could think of was that these guys ate sea lions and sea lions were bigger than me.

This encounter was fifty years ago, and it is not something I would do today. Not because it was dangerous but because it was a form of harassment. Touching wild animals in the wild is never a good idea.

Recently a paranoid few yachties and fishermen have been whining about the “threat” of Orca attacks.

The 15-meter yacht Alboran Cognac, with a crew of two sank in Moroccan waters across from Gibraltar on Sunday, May 12th.

According to the crew that abandoned their vessel the cause of the sinking was a pod of Orcas that bumped the rudder and breached the hull. This occurred in an area where there have been a few incidents over the last few years where Orcas were reported as damaging yachts.

The reason for these “attacks” are unknown but appear to be restricted globally to this one Orca pod. Reports that the Orcas are being vengeful have no credibility. Not one person has been injured by any of the Orcas involved in any of the incidents even though some crew having abandoned ship were very vulnerable to physical attack by the most powerful predator in the sea.

There is no reason for any person to fear an Orca. Historically, as I cited earlier there has never been a single documented case of a wild Orca having harmed a human being.

I have swum with Orcas in the wild on many occasions and I’ve never been threatened nor has anyone else that I am aware of.

Why Orcas are damaging small boats is a mystery and Sea Shepherd France has sent the vessel Walrus to the Iberian Peninsula to research the possible reasons as to why.

This latest incident with the Alboran Cognac has renewed calls from yacht owners and fishermen to kill the Orcas in the name of marine safety and security. It seems whenever an animal is involved in an incident that damages property, the call goes out to punish the animal. In this case it is humans clamoring for revenge and motivated by irrational fear.

Meanwhile there are many other dangers in the sea of far more concern than Orcas or even sharks. Manmade dangers, and aside from toxic chemicals, noise, and plastics pollution there is the ever-present threat of shipping containers.

A few Orcas may be causing a bit of aggravation, but I have not seen such anger directed at other causes for sunken yachts and fishing boats like semi-submerged shipping containers.

Some 2000 to 10,000 containers fall into the sea every year. Most sink but many do not.

The Vendée Globe race received numerous reports of single-handed racers smashing into ‘UFO’s (unidentified floating objects), often at high speed, in remote regions.

Mike Sargeant was delivering a Farr 52 from the UK to Las Palmas via Cascais when the boat collided with something in the dark.

“We were probably about two days out of Las Palmas,” Sargeant recalls. “We had good winds, and it was about 0130, pitch black around 400 miles off Madeira.

“We were doing about 8 knots, which was quite slow really – we had been surfing at around 17-18 knots. I was helming on the port wheel, and it was like a car accident.

“The yacht just went BOOM, and stopped dead. The collision basically threw me off the wheel, it broke one of the spokes of the carbon wheel, and it threw everyone onto the deck.

In 2013 the MOL Comfort broke up in the Indian Ocean, shedding just under 4,300 containers, the biggest single loss ever.  On 14 February 2014, the Svendborg Maersk lost 517 units off Ushant.

John Jennings was sailing his Catalina 41 Coolabah with his wife and sons from Samoa to Suva, Fiji in 2008, when they struck a container and sank.

In 2006, the 42ft yacht Moquini was found floating upside down 500 miles off the SW coast of South Africa. Yacht designer Alex Simonis blamed a container for the mystery sinking. She’d lost her keel and six crew were missing presumed drowned.

In 2000 two U.K. yacht masters died when their Farr 38, Rising Farrster, capsized on passage to Sydney, Australia.

The strange mindset that expresses anger at the Orcas for damages to yachts is the same mentality that angrily denounces sharks despite the fact that shark attacks are very rare.

The chances of striking a semi-submerged shipping container are far greater to small vessels than potential damages from Orcas.

Ships including yachts and fishing vessel regularly strike whales, dolphins and manatees, many with lethal consequences.

Humans pose a far more significant threat to cetacean lives than cetaceans have ever posed for human life despite the fact that the seas are their home and not ours.

Yacht owners can be compensated for their losses by insurance. Damaged boats can be repaired, sunken boats can be replaced.

What can’t be replaced is a species if driven to extinction. The survival of the Orca population off the Iberian Peninsula is much more important than a few damaged yachts.

 

 

 

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