Killer Whales Stealing Fish From Alaskan Fishermen

Dolphins are very inventive when it comes to hunting for food as confirmed by killer whales stealing fish from Alaskan fishermen at an alarming rate. This battle for fish in the Bering Sea is one the killer whales are winning for now.

Dolphins are very inventive when it comes to hunting for food as confirmed by pods of killer whales stealing fish from Alaskan fishermen.

Halibut Catch: Killer Whales Stealing Fish
Alaskan Fishermen With Their Halibut Catch (Author: Kolmkolm/WikiMedia Commons cc by-s.a. 4.0)

In what looks like something from a comedy: pods of killer whales (orcas) are trailing the boats of Alaskan fishermen and stealing their catch. These highly intelligent and skilled predators are outwitting the fishermen at every turn in the Bering Sea.

The Bering Sea is a strip of water near the edge of the continental shelf between Alaska and Russia. Also, it’s home to almost 1,500 killer whales and a variety of tasty prey that attract humans and orcas. Especially the halibut, and black cod fish species.

No Laughing Matter

The problem of killer whales stealing fish has become a serious problem for the men affected.

The pods chase down the halibut and black cod caught by longline fishermen. The fishermen conformed that the dolphins have become an increasingly common sight in the past few years.

Initially, they were just an occasional pest that the fishermen could overlook. Not anymore. The killer whales now target the fishermen’s lines directly. They lurk behind the fishing vessels and strip the fishing lines clean of their catch.

Note that these are not small quantities of fish either: the fishermen can harvest between 20,000 and 30,000 pounds of halibut per day only to leave with nothing the next day when the pods show up. Worst of all, the fishermen also expend thousands of gallons of fuel trying to escape the killer whales.

 When the pods show up they will eat all the fish and leave maybe just the halibut “lips” still attached to hooks or nothing at all.

The Killer Whales Can Recognize Specific Boats

Apparently, this situation is not a new thing. It’s actually been going on since at least the 1960’s going by reports from the Journal of Marine Science.

Orcas are dolphins after all and one of the most intellectually advanced animals either on land or in the seas. They have very strategic hunting patterns and they can learn to recognize boats, follow them and steal their catches.

Japanese fishermen have also encountered this problem before. However, this time the situation is getting out of hand and very worrisome to the fishermen whose livelihood depend on this business.

The killer whales are literally trailing boats all over the Bering Sea.

One fisherman in particular, Robert Hanson, lost 12,000 pounds of halibut to the orcas and used up 4,000 gallons of fuel trying to get away from them! The pod tracked his boat for 30 miles and waited around patiently for 18 hours to get at the catch.

In a phone interview with The Alaska Dispatch News, another man, Jeff Kauffman confirmed that the killer whales are targeting specific boats.

In addition, juvenile orcas are now showing up: an indication that the mothers may be teaching their young to go after the fishermen’s catch. The animals are also becoming increasingly aggressive.

The orca plundering over the last five years is the worst I’ve seen in 39 years of fishing in the Bering Sea. – Hebert, captain of one of the fishing vessels, the Aleutian Sable.

Possible Solutions To The Problem

The men have tried different tricks to get rid of the orcas with no success. For instance, they used sonar at a frequency designed to keep the dolphins at bay but that never worked. They also tried using decoys and playing very loud heavy metal music underwater. No luck.

A biologist from the NOAA, John Moran, restated that killer whales are skilled hunters. They can tell the sounds of different boats and likely even learn the sounds the hydraulic system makes as it lowers fishing gear into the water.

Presently, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is looking into a solution to the problem but nothing is concluded yet. Options include using pots rather than longlines or steel traps to protect their catch.

The fishermen are frustrated and not willing to try catching fish for now. Meanwhile, the killer whales have the obvious advantage in this struggle and they are winning.

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