The orca wars escalate, with special reference to the economics of fisheries

by on June 23, 2017 at 1:48 am in Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Games, Political Science | Permalink

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.

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.”

“You’d see two of them show up, and that’s the end of the trip. Pretty soon all 40 of them would be around you,” he said.

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.

These are not Coasean orcas, or are they?  And sperm whales are now in on the act:

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.

A remarkable 2006 video by the Avoidance Project captured one of the 50,000 kg whales delicately shaking fish loose from a line. After a particularly heavy assault by sperm whales, fishers are known to pull up lines in which up to 90 per cent of the catch has disappeared or been mangled.

Here is the full story, with video, and further points of interest.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Mark Thorson.

1 anonymous June 23, 2017 at 2:29 am

I suppose killing orcas is out of the question? I bet that would solve the problem pretty quickly.

2 Just Another MR Commentor June 23, 2017 at 2:48 am

Well the Orcas are smart enough to know that humans have overfished pretty much everywhere else so attacking fishing boats is probably the best strategy they have at this point.

3 prior_test2 June 23, 2017 at 2:57 am

The Alaskan fisheries are not overfished, and are some of the best managed in the world – ‘Amidst the many fisheries that struggle with overexploitation, the management of the Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) fishery can be considered a model of sustainability. A large species of flatfish capable of growing up to 8 ft long and reaching 500 lbs, Pacific halibut live on the sea floor along the continental shelf of the north Pacific. The International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC for short, is an international organization established through a treaty between the United States and Canada in 1923 to manage populations of Pacific halibut from the coast of California up to the Bering Sea in Alaska.’

Whether the orcas are refugees, so to speak, is another question. In which case, one can count on a large number of MR commenters decrying the lack or proper maritime borders while mocking Prof. Cowen and Prof. Tabarrok for apparently supporting the idea that the oceans are borderless.

4 Finn June 23, 2017 at 4:37 am

Refugees seems likely. They do seem to move around a lot. Difficult to be certain, of course.

5 prior_test2 June 23, 2017 at 3:03 am

And rereading, I see you may actually know that the Alaskan halibut fisheries are not overfished.

6 Dzhaughn June 23, 2017 at 2:56 am

Trump has yet to tweet on this question. But I could be wrong about that.

7 prior_test2 June 23, 2017 at 3:02 am

Well, the problem there is that first he tweeted he had ‘tapes’ of the orcas, then the orcas released their notes to the press, and now Trump has tweeted something along the lines that not only does he not (any longer at least) have ‘tapes,’ but that apparently someone like Obama continues to keep him under surveillance.

The orcas are too smart to waste their time on such immensely entertaining antics – there are tasty American fish waiting to be eaten, after all.

8 Pshrnk June 23, 2017 at 9:36 am

The orcas have us all under observation.

9 MOFO June 23, 2017 at 9:43 am

Dont worry, when he does you can count on Anonymous to tell us we are not shitting our pants about it enough.

10 Anon June 23, 2017 at 10:17 am

Hell no. Shoot them. Cut them up into steaks and sell it as faux-tuna.

11 Tanturn June 23, 2017 at 10:58 am

Call in the Japanese to do some “scientific reasearch.”

12 JWatts June 23, 2017 at 11:05 am

“Hell no. Shoot them. Cut them up into steaks and sell it as faux-tuna.”

+1, sushi

13 msgkings June 23, 2017 at 11:09 am

More like beef, they are mammals not fish.

14 JWatts June 23, 2017 at 11:21 am


15 Borjigid June 23, 2017 at 10:26 am

It’s a trivial problem. The article says $500 a day, or $182,500 a year.

Then again, if you’re bloody-minded enough that your first thought is “kill them”, I’m probably not going to talk you out of it.

16 anonymous June 23, 2017 at 12:48 pm

$500 per day per boat is not trivial. What do we do if wolves are attacking cattle? Historically, we would shoot them, right? Orcas are smart, we probably wouldn’t have to kill very many.

17 Expat June 24, 2017 at 10:07 am

Orcas are smart and social. Kill one, the rest will leave. They come back kill another. Works with crows and wolves should work with whales. A few dead whales are a small price to pay to keep families in business.
Course SJW’s will say whales count more than people. Not them of course, just those other people they don’t know.

18 Mike W June 23, 2017 at 11:08 am

Black & White Lives Matter

19 msgkings June 23, 2017 at 11:10 am


20 Tyler June 23, 2017 at 3:25 am

There’s actually a comparable story of keeping another charismatic, intelligent megafauna out of our food – elephants. Elephants are increasingly being effectively kept out of African farms by fences of bees, or so the Economist tells me –

The fishermen will figure it out.

21 dearieme June 23, 2017 at 3:49 am

Why nobody has pointed out that all these orcas and sperm whales have been trained by the Russians beats me.

22 Thiago Ribeiro June 23, 2017 at 6:20 am

Actually they are undocumented Orcas.

23 dearieme June 23, 2017 at 10:25 am

And Moslem.

24 Thiago Ribeiro June 23, 2017 at 11:01 am

Which explains why they usually do not eat pork. Or are they Jews?

25 Cptn Obvious June 23, 2017 at 4:42 am

Karma is a beautiful! 🙂

26 Thiago Ribeiro June 23, 2017 at 5:36 am

“We’ve been chased out of the Bering Sea”
Coward. Go back there and fight.

27 Melmoth June 23, 2017 at 5:51 am

And to think they used to help us kill their brethren:

28 The Lunatic June 23, 2017 at 6:37 am

“Well? Just because you stopped whaling doesn’t mean you can go back on the deal. So we’re here for our share of the food you catch, including back-catch for all those years you didn’t pay up.”

29 Thiago Ribeiro June 23, 2017 at 8:13 am

Once a traitor, always a traitor.

30 JWatts June 23, 2017 at 11:07 am

““Well? Just because you stopped whaling doesn’t mean you can go back on the deal.”

Fisherman: Yeah, but it doesn’t mean we can’t go back on our deal either.

31 Evans_KY June 23, 2017 at 6:22 am

The orcas are colluding with the Russians to take us down. It is all part of their diabolical plan to remove humans as the top predator.

32 The Lunatic June 23, 2017 at 6:48 am

That’s okay. The domesticated animals know that if somebody else is in charge, they’ll be rapidly liquidated. A milk cow might not know much, but it won’t choose being run down by a pack of wolves on the prairie over regular feeding. And the wild commensals don’t want to suffer loss of habitat or food sources either; you know which way the raccoons will vote. If we keep destroying the habitat of the others, then the inevitable demographic shift favors us entirely.

33 Thiago Ribeiro June 23, 2017 at 8:15 am

So you want to elect a new ecosystem.

34 The Lunatic June 23, 2017 at 6:31 pm

We’ve been doing that for millennia, why change a winning program?

35 rayward June 23, 2017 at 6:51 am

Profiting from the labor of others. Orcas must be Republicans.

36 TMC June 23, 2017 at 9:16 am

Does Spock have a goatee in your world?

37 Some guy June 23, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Or are they lawyers?

38 Artimus June 23, 2017 at 7:03 am

Actually, being undocumented, interested in a free lunch and stealing the hard work of honest individuals I would say they were Bernie Saunders voting democrats.

39 Brian Donohue June 23, 2017 at 8:20 am

I can more easily see the orcas cast in the role of Native Americans or some other dispossessed groups.

Fascinating how these predatory marine mammals give humans a pass. Dolphins are like that, too, but don’t let that Flipper smile fool you, these predators are smart, stone-cold killers.

It’s like they recognize something like that in humans too. Respect.

40 Viking1 June 23, 2017 at 11:04 am
41 chedolf June 23, 2017 at 7:32 am

This is ♪ what ♬ demorcacy ♪ looks like

42 Brian Donohue June 23, 2017 at 7:37 am

Can’t make that shit up. Fascinating planet.

43 Stefan June 23, 2017 at 8:48 am

What’s the value of the marginal orca?

44 Thiago Ribeiro June 23, 2017 at 10:10 am

What’s the value of the marginal human being?

45 Stefan June 23, 2017 at 11:31 am

I’ll consider the question when I can compare the human version of Facebook to the Orca version.

46 Thiago Ribeiro June 23, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Actually, Orcas are so smart they have no Facebook.

47 byomtov June 23, 2017 at 9:50 am

Short version:

Orcas are very smart, and learn from each other. The Cultural Life of Whales and Dolphins, a book I read on Tyler’s recommendation some time ago, explains it well.

48 djw June 23, 2017 at 11:17 am

That does mean that you probably would not have to kill very many of them to get them to stop.

49 Jeff R June 23, 2017 at 10:22 am

I don’t know what’s worse in this thread: the attempted jokes or the political metaphors.

50 Blinker June 23, 2017 at 10:45 am

It’s the rise of the orc-right, they suddenly feel empowered.

51 A clockwork orange June 23, 2017 at 12:30 pm

It’s the fall of the old man of the sea, beside the stagnating coral reefs.

52 Mike W June 23, 2017 at 11:11 am

Is this something new…Orcas and fishing boats have been around for a long time?

53 mkt42 June 23, 2017 at 11:19 pm

The second paragraph of the article (and of Tyler’s snippet of it) say this:

“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.”

54 ricardo June 23, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Score one for Lucas.

55 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz June 23, 2017 at 8:37 pm

They should be able to use the sperm whales against the Orcas. Any properly trained full size sperm whale should be able to take out an Orca. We just need do domesticate them like wolfhounds.

56 jdgalt June 23, 2017 at 11:56 pm

It sounds to me like there are now enough of at least those two species of whale, that listing them as endangered is no longer justified. I would like to see an educational effort about this aimed at the public, followed by pressure on EPA to de-list them.

As for hunting the whales — in a direct sense it would be a waste (because there probably isn’t much of a market for whale meat or whale oil even if legalized, unless it’s Japan and/or Norway which never stopped whaling). But most types of whale have no natural enemies except the orca, and I don’t think the orca has any at all. So humanity is stuck with the job. I suggest auctioning off a number of hunting licenses each year, to be decided based on population estimates.

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