A war is taking place in the frigid waters off the coast of Alaska. Pods of killer whales are stalking fishermen to steal the fish they are catching, meaning they get all the reward with none of the effort.
This is not an unusual behavior for the large sea mammal (it has been witnessed since the 1960s) and there are reports of sperm whales doing the same. But fishermen are claiming that the attacks are getting worse and more frequent.
The pods are eating halibut and black cod caught by longline fishing and the whales have begun to recognize the boats. According to John Moran, a NOAA Fisheries biologist, killer whales are smart enough to know a boat from another just by the sound and even know when they are lowering the fishing gear into the water.
A few thousand whales live in the waters of the Bering Strait so their impact can be significant. In a story reported by the Alaska Dispatch News, one unlucky fisherman, Robert Hanson, captain of the FV Oracle, spent a day fishing near the edge of the designated fishing waters before a pod of 50 whales started following his boat. They stalked him for two days.
"The pod tracked me 30 miles north of the edge and 35 miles west (while) I drifted for 18 hours up there with no machinery running and they just sat with me," he wrote to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. "It's gotten completely out of control."
Another time, he lost over 5,400 kilograms (about 12,000 pounds) of halibut and spent 18,200 liters (4,000 gallons) of fuel to escape the voracious carnivores. Other fishermen have also pointed out how killer whales are also bringing their young near the boats not only to feed but also to learn how to get the most out of this ready-serve meal.
Fighting off killer whales and sperm whales is quite difficult. Fishermen have tried decoy buoys and even heavy metal music to try and confuse the stubborn cetaceans, to little or no avail. In the case of sperm whales, a successful approach started by Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project (SEASWAP) was to tag and track, via satellite, where the whales are.
Fishermen can simply log onto the SEASWAP website to see where the whales are and which areas to avoid. A similar approach could help dealing with killer whales as well. This will keep the fishermen happy and the orcas safe.
Unless they work it out and they begin to ostracize the GPS-tagged members of the pods.
[H/T: Alaska Dispatch News]