NOAA Fisheries has reported that ten orcas (Orcinus orca) were caught as bycatch in Alaska by Bering Sea and Aleutian Island groundfish trawl fisheries from May 6 to September 9, 2023. Of the ten individuals caught only one survived to be released.
An eleventh orca became entangled in the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s longline survey for sablefish and groundfish and also died in June.
For the ten orcas that died, NOAA is conducted a genetic analysis to determine which stocks they belonged to and what caused the bycatch incidents. NOAA expects to make public the results of these analyses sometime later this month.
Bycatch incidents with orcas do happen but are extremely rare. To catch eleven in four months will require additional analyses to determine why so many were caught and how to mitigate this risk to orcas moving forward. Many killer whale populations in the Northern Pacific have already experienced drastic declines due to decreased food availability and complications from bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals, and therefore need to be protected.