(N.Morgan) Pods of killer whales are pursuing the fishing boats of Alaska and stealing the fishermen’s halibut catches, leaving the crew with no fish and out thousands of gallons of fuel attempting to escape from the fish thieves.
This isn’t a new development for killer whales or orcas, the largest member of the oceanic dolphin family, as they have learned to recognize the fishing boats and take chase to steal the catches.
An article from the Journal of Marine Science traces the habit back to at least the 1960s and reveals there were complaints of the same stalking and stealing reported by Japanese fishermen.
However, recently the problem seems to be accelerating in frequency, and promises to only get worse.
The killer whales are shadowing boats all around Alaska, with the majority of the pack favoring a strip of water between Russia and Alaska, known as the Bering Sea.
Fisherman Robert Hanson complained about how he lost 12,000 pounds of halibut to killer whales, and 4,000 gallons of fuel getting away.
(Based on one 2014 study which found that such thieves could cost boats up to $500 a day, the recent examples seem to be more serious.)
Mr. Hanson described how a pod tracked him for 30 miles and then stayed in the area with him for 18 hours.
Another fisherman explained that sometimes the killer whales will take all of the catch — as much as 30,000 pounds in a day — and leave only the halibut “lips” still attached.
As a result of these recurring thefts, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is now planning to research the extent of this problem.
It’s not clear whether there’s one perfect solution.
In the past, others have tried everything from buying decoys to blasting heavy metal, all to no avail — though some think that using steel traps to protect the caught fish might be better than traditional fishing line.
At any rate, something probably needs to change.
“It’s gotten completely out of control,” Hanson said.
The video below shows killer whales stealing fish in 1000 feet of water, this time in far north New Zealand waters. They know to grab the tails of the fish caught on the lines and it’s then a tug of war, which most times they win!
This video clearly shows this phenomenon is not only happening exclusively in Alaska.