Whale ‘pingers’ trialled to deter orcas

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An Edinburgh-based company is trialling a new acoustic device with the aim to deter orca from ‘attacking’ yachts as problems continue off the Portuguese coast

A new acoustic deterrent device is to be tested in the waters off Portugal to see if it will deter killer whales from making contact with yachts.

Concerns have been raised about the orcas’ behaviour after three yachts were sunk following damage caused by the orcas striking or biting them this spring. It remains unclear as to whether the cetaceans are behaving intentionally aggressively, or playing, but over 500 interactions have been recorded since the phenomenon was first observed in 2020. It’s believed over 250 incidents have resulted in damage to a boat, 60 incurring serious damage.

The new acoustic deterrent device has been created by the Edinburgh-based GenusWave. The Targeted Acoustic Startle Technology – known as TAST – is designed to trigger the instinctive startle reflex, which causes an involuntary flight response – compelling the targeted animals to flee the area.

TAST was originally developed to deter seals from getting entangled in fishing nets, and has been modified to work on sea lions and orca.

Trials in Norwegian fishing grounds in 2022 and 2021 showed an 85% reduction in orca sightings on the fishing grounds during playback of the audio signals compared to before the sounds were emitted. Tracking the orca also showed that they quickly returned to the site when the noise subsided.

Portuguese conservation group Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF) and GenusWave plan to begin sea trials off the Portuguese coast this autumn. Skippers transiting through the area are asked to still report any orca sightings online at theca.org.uk/orcas

If the trials are successful it’s anticipated that GenusWave devices could be made available for yachts within the year.

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