"Four orcas in the port of Genoa, a race against time for salvation"


THE FAIRY TALE of the killer whales of Genoa, who have very little assassins, has a final yet to be written. After the wonder and amazement at the arrival of these cetaceans that had not been seen in Liguria since 1985, and arrived up to Voltri thanks to a journey of a thousand kilometers, now biologists and researchers who are observing them are beginning to be worried. It has been three days since they left the port and the question is: why don't they leave? And why are they still swimming only ever in the same place?

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The orcas, four in all, the male, the female, a puppy and a young specimen, were spotted for the first time three days ago by a fisherman who immortalized them in a video. This is a very rare event, given that although reports have already been made in Italy, from Sardinia to Sicily via Capraia, almost never happened that the orcas pushed themselves into a port. The majestic cetaceans have chosen the port of Voltri after a journey, it is believed, of more than twenty-two days: it is probable in fact that the same animals were sighted in early November off the coast of Cartagena, Spain, perhaps transited from the Strait of Gibraltar.
The hypothesis is that the killer whales have come here hunting for fish. "It is a very rare event – he explains Sabina Airoldi, scientific director of the Tethys Institute, the main cetacean research center in Italy. In the Mediterranean, sightings of these large cetaceans are extremely rare and even if it is estimated there is a group of 30-40 individuals often sighted, mostly they arrive from the Atlantic passing Gibraltar. Those arriving are far from being called murderers, since they are an ecotype that eats fish and not mammals: in Genoa they found so many mullet and sea bream, the fishermen report it in abundance ".

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So for three days the killer whales haven't moved from Voltri. First the Harbor and Coast Guard Department came out to immortalize them, record them and try to guarantee them not to be disturbed. Then this morning a bustle of researchers' rubber boats, whale watching, teleoperators and veterinarians.As the hours pass, however, the initial fable of the orcas coming from afar is taking an unexpected turn, which will end "positively only if the orcas soon leave the place to return, hopefully, to the Atlantic" says Airoldi. For the moment, as some researchers at Tethys have observed, the killer whales seem to continue to swim back and forth in a very small sea space of just over 100 meters. "It is an anomalous behavior that could indicate that something is wrong" says Airoldi, specifying that other analyzes will be needed to understand what is happening.

Usually, if the four orcas of Genoa were only engaged in the hunt, they would not continue to move into such a small patch of sea, as is happening instead. "It could be that one of the specimens is sick, but it is difficult to say: between wind and waves we cannot get too close and it is complex to understand the state of health of the animals", explains the scientist.

The hope clearly, in increasingly dark times for the cetaceans, – with a whale found stranded on the Thames in London a few days ago and a sperm whale found dead with 100 kilograms of plastic in the stomach in Scotland, – is what the "Italian" orcas they soon leave Genoa without complications.

Even the climate crisis could have affected the behavior of these animals. "Cetaceans in general today are threatened by more factors, by the warming of the waters linked to climate change, but also by boats, plastic and noise. With the increase in temperature the routes for cetacean prey change: consequently they can change also those of predators: a minimum change of temperature changes the salinity, the direction of the currents, such as those of ascent that bring nutrients to the surface, and therefore an important upheaval triggers, as we have already observed with the sperm whales that hunt cephalopods "They move at the slightest temperature change. The same can apply to orcas. In general, all cetaceans can suffer directly or indirectly from changes in the climate," says Airoldi.

In the small group that does not seem to want to leave the port of Voltri, the puppy is particularly worried. "While we have seen the killer whales emerge several times with their big black fin, we have seen little of them. Our researchers took dive times and different data from which we will try to understand if something is wrong or not – says the marine biologist – and I hope with all my heart to see them leave Genoa soon, it would be a really nice Christmas present ".

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