Evidence of deep-sea interactions between toothed whales and longlines

Abstract

Toothed whales (odontocetes) feeding on fish caught on hooks in longline fisheries is a growing issue worldwide. The substantial impacts that this behaviour, called depredation, can have on the fishing economy, fish stocks and odontocetes populations, raise a critical need for mitigation solutions to be developed. However, information on when, where and how odontocete depredation occurs underwater is still limited, especially in demersal longline fisheries (fishing gear set on the seafloor). In the present study, we investigated depredation by killer whales (Orcinus orca) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) on demersal longlines in the French Patagonian toothfish fishery (Southern Ocean). Using a combination of animal-borne behavioural and longline-attached data loggers, we demonstrated that both species are able to depredate longlines on the seafloor. This study, therefore, suggests that odontocetes whales–longline interaction events at depth may be unrecorded when assessing depredation rates from surface observations during hauling phases only. This result has implications for the management of fisheries facing similar depredation issues as underestimated depredation rates may result in unaccounted fish mortality in fish-stock assessments. Therefore, while further research should be conducted to assess the extent of deep-sea whale–longline interaction events during soaking, the evidence that depredation can occur at any time during the whole fishing process as brought out by this study should be considered in future developments of mitigation solutions to the issue.

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Acknowledgements

We are particularly grateful to the captains and their crew of the Mascareignes 3, the Ile de La Réunion and the Albius for their assistance in the field. We thank Dominique Filipi for providing the accelerometer and for his help with the devices. We are also grateful to fishery observers operating from the vessel and especially to Gabriel Devique for sharing his picture of the dead sperm whale. We thank also the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris for providing access to the PechKer Database. This study was part of the OrcaDepred program supported by the ANR, the Fondation d’Entreprise des Mers australes, the Syndicat des Armements Réunionais des Palangriers Congélateurs, fishing companies, the Direction des Pêche Maritimes et de l’Aquaculture, Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (the Natural Reserve and Fishery units) and the Australian Research Council grant. The first author was financially supported by a departmental and regional grant (Deux-Sèvres and Poitou–Charentes).

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Richard, G., Bonnel, J., Tixier, P. et al. Evidence of deep-sea interactions between toothed whales and longlines. Ambio 49, 173–186 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01182-1

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Keywords

  • Bio-logging
  • Demersal longlines
  • Depredation
  • Killer whales
  • Patagonian toothfish
  • Sperm whales