It’s mid September and multiple reports of Orcas ramming and disabling sailboats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal are being reported in the news.
This is not the first reports of marine
mammals attacking sail vessels.
There are several theories. Pod marine mammals might perceive a fast sailing vessel as something attacking the pod. Single
whales sleeping on the surface, hit by a sailboat, might believe they themselves are under attack and respond accordingly. Please remember marine mammals are intelligent and have a full range of sensory organs. They can see, taste, smell and most importantly hear.
Bioacoustics in marine mammals is a complex subject for marine mammals not only hear, some project
sound for several purposes. To identify members of their group, detect threats, identify food
and lastly “stunning sound” which can temporarily disable prey. Marine mammals live in an acoustic world.
There are three important aspects of generated noise
...frequency, amplitude and time. Scientists are just beginning to dissect their complex world and that most people who work
or have worked in marine mammal bioacoustics are very aware of the limits of understanding acoustics and behavior. Is there anything which will prevent attacks? No. Is there anything which might reduce the chances of attacks? Maybe, but no one knows with any degree of scientific certainty.
If you try to see it from their side, there are some obvious ideas. Sneak up on any mammal sleeping and hit them and you will get a startle reaction. Run full speed and screaming up to a group of mothers and children
...what do you think will happen. So clearly amplitude (loud), frequency (screaming) and time (fast) produce a startle reaction. Kinda an oversimplification but I’m trying to get sailors to see things from a marine mammal point of view.
So it’s your decision. The more stealthy you move, the faster you move, the more you increase the chances you will be perceived as a threat.
There was an idiotic proposal to build an underwater horn that would blare constantly to alert manatees to get out of the way of powerboats. Federal laws protecting marine mammals are pretty solid and acoustics are covered.
So are sailors doomed? Just follow the rules. Keep a sharp lookout. Keep speed appropriate to all conditions including traffic both on and in the sea. Understand sleeping and grouping to protect the young are normal mammal behavior.
Some male Orcas are very aggressive but most of the sailors who see Orcas on a regular basis will respect and avoid them. Sperm whales...information on where and when has been tracked for a hundred years. Isn’t it time we all realized that the ocean is limited in size and like in a sandbox, play nice and share.
My manatee friends are not speedbumps. Till then...
Happy trails to you.
Mark and his fuzzy faced manatees