Whales, Fishing Boats & Depredation’s Discontents

Yesterday’s dramatic photograph at sea shows an interaction between two sea creatures, and combines stark beauty with the occasional terror of pure nature. Man and nature in conflict at sea is not beautiful in any manner. This article below, authored by Nick Rahaim and published in Hakai Magazine, helps put the video above in context. Please click the title to read the story in full at its origin, or listen to it here:

Clever Whales and the Violent Fight for Fish on the Line

As a commercial fisher, I’ve watched colleagues shoot at whales looting from their lines. Here’s why everyone loses when that happens.

Whales seem to be increasingly looking to fishing boats, especially longliners (not pictured), as sources of free meals. Photo by Audun Rikardsen

As I coiled rope on the deck of a commercial fishing boat in the western Gulf of Alaska, I felt the sudden thud of a revolver reverberate in my chest. I wheeled around as a crewmate fired more bullets; a round of buckshot followed, from a shotgun held by my captain. I’d known their anger was growing as sperm whales ate our catch but hadn’t expected they would vent their frustrations with live ammunition. I looked out and saw a sperm whale crest the surface for air around 20 meters away, seemingly unfazed by the heavy fire.

It was early spring 2013, and I was sore, exhausted, and cold. After working 20 hours a day for more than a week, my crewmates and I still owed the boat money because sperm whales had dined on nearly all the sablefish hanging from our hooks as we burned fuel and ate food—both of which came out of our pay. We were using longline gear, essentially a kilometers-long rope with baited hooks spaced at intervals, and all that we pulled from the depths were bent hooks and the occasional disembodied sablefish head.

In videos taken by researchers over the years, the whales are surprisingly graceful—giants weighing 15 to 40 tonnes gently biting half-a-meter-long sablefish off the hooks. Sometimes sperm whales will rake the rope as it’s being hauled in, letting the hooks run over their lower teeth, with the fish popping off upon contact. Other times, the whales will grab a taut rope in their mouth and pluck it like a guitar string, whipping fish off the hooks from the vibration…

Read the whole article here.

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