Nine killer whales, also called orcas, have died this year after being found caught in fishery equipment off the Alaska coast.
Trawl fisheries have found 10 orcas in their nets so far in 2023. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, only one orca was released alive. From 2016 to 2020, meanwhile, just five orcas were caught and killed by fishing gear off the Alaska coast, NOAA reported.
Killer whale deaths as a result of trawler equipment have been on the rise since 2020, with numbers peaking in 2023, Hannah Myers, a marine biology graduate student studying the creatures, told the Anchorage Daily News.
With only 2,500 orcas in the eastern North Pacific Ocean, these nine dead orcas could represent . 4% of the remaining population in the region.
Researchers are working to determine the exact cause of death and to analyze the whales’ genetic data to determine which species they belong to, according to the NOAA statement.
These orcas likely aren’t members of the Southern Resident species, of which there were only 73 individuals left in 2022. Southern Resident orcas live off the coasts of Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia — likely too far south for these fisheries.
Orcas made headlines throughout this summer, but for a very different reason: killer whales began ramming into boats off the coast of Spain and Portugal almost daily.
Experts say they can trace these attacks to one orca who started it all: White Gladis, a killer whale that was likely pregnant when the bizarre trend began in 2020. Scientists have debated why the orcas have been engaging with boats. Some think it could be related to past trauma, while others say it’s just orcas having fun.