The Observer Magazine published an article on Sunday concerning the sudden rise in orca activity in the Gibraltar Straits. Orca over the past year have been interacting with sailing yachts on increasingly fraught and sometimes violent terms, attacking rudders, keels and spinning boats in circles with crew unable to pacify or stop them.
Journalist Susan Smillie contacted Reliance Yacht Management after we post videos on social media of some of these orca encounters. She interviewed crew members Victoria Morris and Alfonso Gomez-Jordana Martin and managing director Nick Irving about their experiences.
Morris and Martin both give accounts of completely losing control of their delivery charges, spinning in the water and hearing the orca, deafening against the side of the hull. Interestingly, the orca seemed to only attack monohulls, leaving the catamarans we delivered through the Strait largely untouched.
Smillie brought sailors’ firsthand experiences into conversation with researchers, activists and scientists in an effort to try understand the orca behavior. But she found, ‘[t]here is one very unscientific phrase I hear repeatedly from several researchers: “Pissed off”. Researchers suggest to Smillie that while the Gibraltar Strait has for a long time now been busy with shipping traffic and fishing, the quietening effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and then the sudden reintroduction of noise and pollution triggered anger and perhaps even trauma in the orca, who in this generation are likely to have never experienced such silence.
The article ends with Nick expressing concerns to Smillie about whether he should be sending boats through the Strait, considering his responsibility and duty of care for crew and cargo alike. But the article implicitly demands what our duty of care is to the marine life in the Strait. Care for the environment has traditionally been seen as incompatible with modern life and free market capitalism. But as I read about the crowded and noisy Strait, where nets seem more common than the fish they’re trying to catch, I cannot help but be reminded of the orange, ashen skies that lie heavy on the American west coast right now. The erosion and historical oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas in pursuit of capital gain and conquest has never felt so glaringly obvious as wildfires rage along the coast. Local american governments now look to indigenous land practices in order to combat the fires, only pointing to the failure in abandoning them in the first place.
Smillie mentions the use of less intrusive traditional fishing practices in the Strait and Spanish conservation plan to reduce noise polluting activity to a minimum. This feels like the minimum that can be done for the orca right now. The need for marine life to thrive and flourish, does not stand in the way of successful business but is essential for it. Reckless free market capitalism no longer feels sustainable as a model for progress as burns in its name.
Go check out the article on the Guardian website here.