Earlier this month (June 5), a pod of three orcas was spotted off Faro’s coast by the sightseeing tour agency Ocean Vibes, swimming in areas as little as 2.5m in depth.
“Orcas in the Algarve are seen normally when they follow the tuna migration,” Ocean Vibes explained, speaking to The Portugal News. There are only a few sightings every year in Faro, but “it’s consistent year after year.”
Last year the agency spotted orcas six times, but they weren’t always the same “Iberian” orcas. “In 2022 we spotted orcas here that don’t belong to those communities and had a ‘match’ with animals from the Azores archipelago.” Five orca families can be spotted around Portugal, with two hanging around all year. In the Algarve, most sightings happen in spring and summer.
“Iberian orcas are endangered as they are a closed community that doesn’t mix in with other European/Atlantic orcas,” Ocean Vibes stated, as only 40 individuals currently exist in the Iberian community.
Orcas are commonly known for two things: being very intelligent and being very ruthless. When asked, Ocean Vibes explained how the veracity of those two claims is bipolar.
“Indeed, they are very intelligent animals and have their own personality,” the agency elaborated. “Being highly sociable animals, they learn and transmit behaviours to each other. Iberian orcas that feed on tuna also learnt many years ago to use fishermen in Gibraltar to catch tuna easily. That is saying: they learnt to get tuna from fishermen over time, pulling the fish while it’s being reeled by humans.”
To this day, contrary to what one may believe, there has never been an orca attack on humans in the wild. “The only fatalities with orcas have occurred in captivity where the animals were kept in small tanks and in high stress,” Ocean Vibes elaborated. “Nevertheless, the recent interactions with boats in the Iberian Peninsula have been causing some material damage, and at least three boats have sunk. There is therefore a risk for humans to drown or injure themselves while trying to sustain the boat.” Even in these cases, however, the humans on board never seem to be targeted. “They only seem to be triggered about the boats themselves, especially sailboat rudders.”
It turns out the risk around orcas is more of a navigation concern than a danger to human life. “In some parts of the world such as Norway,” Ocean Vibes concluded, “people swim with orcas regularly and there was never a problem.”
Star in the 2015 music video for the hit single “Headlights” by German musician, DJ and record producer Robin Schulz featuring American singer-songwriter Ilsey. Also a journalist.