Sperm whale depredation of sablefish longline gear in the northeast Pacific Ocean



Interactions between marine mammals and fisheries include competition for prey (catch), marine mammal entanglement in fishing gear, and catch removal off fishing gear (depredation). We estimated the magnitude of sperm whale depredation on a major North Pacific longline fishery (sablefish) using data collected during annual longline surveys. Sperm whale depredation occurs while the longline gear is off-bottom during retrieval. Sperm whales were observed on 16% of longline survey sampling days, mostly (95% of sightings) over the continental slope. Sightings were most common in the central and eastern Gulf of Alaska (98% of sightings), occasional in the western Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands, and absent in the Bering Sea. Longline survey catches were commonly preyed upon when sperm whales were present (65% of sightings), as evidenced by damaged fish. Neither sperm whale presence (P= 0.71) nor depredation rate (P= 0.78) increased significantly from 1998 to 2004. Longline survey catch rates were about 2% less at locations where depredation was observed, but the effect was not significant (P= 0.34). Estimated sperm whale depredation was <1% of the annual sablefish longline fishery catch off Alaska during 1998 to 2004.