The orcas will wait all day for a fisher to accumulate a catch of halibut, and then deftly rob them blind. They will relentlessly stalk individual fishing boats, sometimes forcing them back into port.Above is a still from a video showing a big sperm whale stealing fish from a line.
Most chilling of all, this is new: After decades of relatively peaceful coexistence with cod and halibut fishers off the coast of Alaska, the region’s orcas appear to be turning on them in greater numbers.
“We’ve been chased out of the Bering Sea,” said Paul Clampitt, Washington State-based co-owner of the F/V Augustine.
Like many boats, the Augustine has tried electronic noisemakers to ward off the animals, but the orcas simply got used to them.
“It became a dinner bell,” said Clampitt.
John McHenry, owner of the F/V Seymour, described orca pods near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as being like a “motorcycle gang.”
A report this week in the Alaska Dispatch News outlined instances of aggressive orcas harassing boats relentlessly — even refusing to leave after a desperate skipper cut the engine and drifted silently for 18 hours.
“It’s gotten completely out of control,” Alaska fisherman Jay Hebert told the paper.
Fishing lines are also being pillaged by sperm whales, the large square-headed whale best known as the white whale in Moby Dick.
“Since 1997, reports of depredation have increased dramatically,” noted a report by the Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project.
I wonder when we will reach the limits of our tolerance for wild predators. Big predators eat a lot; there was a case a few years back in which clever sea lions ate almost all of the endangered salmon lining up to use the fish ladder at a big California dam. Orcas have lately been eating lots of sea otters, making people wonder about their future.
Plus when it comes to fish, there are only so many in the sea, and the more orcas eat the fewer there are for us. I would not be surprised to see major fishing nations starting to kill toothed whales within the next few years, because of the competition for fish.