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Killer whales and the legality of using Anti Depredation Devices/ Pingers by UK registered recreational boats transiting or operating in Spanish / EU / Portuguese waters

Published on: 20 April 2022

orca 20-04

British Marine members who wholesale or retail Anti Depredation Devices (ADD) / Pingers to UK registered recreational boat owners or crew are reminded to ensure the purchaser is made aware that it is presently illegal to use ADD / Pingers in the manner advertised whilst operating in Spanish waters.

Following several incidents involving British yachts and killer whales (Orcinus orca) on passage between the Straits of Gibraltar and Cape Finisterre in 2020 and 2021, a request for clarification of the legal protection of killer whales afforded by the Spanish Government was made by the RYA (Royal Yachting Association). 

In response the Spanish Government’s Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO) provided the following information.

 "All cetaceans present in Spanish waters are protected by the Habitats Directive and by Law 42/2007, of December 13, on Natural Heritage and Biodiversity,” which “forbids any action carried out with the purpose of killing, capturing, persecuting or disturbing them.”

MITECO additionally statedFurthermore, the approach by boat to cetaceans is regulated by Royal Decree 1727/2007, of December 21, which establishes measures for the protection of cetaceans. In its article 4, this royal decree lists several actions that are considered to be able to harm, annoy or disturb cetaceans, so they are forbidden.”

Article 4 of the Royal Decree 1727/2007 states that it is illegal to “Produce noises and loud or shrill sounds to try to attract them or drive them away, including the emission of sounds underwater”.

MITECO also indicated that, under Spanish legislation “using an engine and propeller to reverse a boat towards an orca, the use of “noise makers”, “pingers” Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADD) attached to boats, and throwing of pyrotechnics, flares, etc at approaching whales, are forbidden by Spanish law

Clarification of the legal situation and any possible penalties that could be imposed upon a British registered recreational craft’s crew if caught using ADD / Pingers or similar devices in both British (including Gibraltar) and EU / Spanish waters has been requested from UK DEFRA, the Spanish Government and a UK based manufacturer of said devices.

Governments and suppliers are being urged to provide clear information on the conservation impacts and legal situation with respect to using these devices in EU/ Spanish and Gibraltarian territorial waters, particularly the area between Cape Finisterre and the Straits of Gibraltar.