Saturday, March 04, 2006

How whales outsmart fishing fleets

"ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Years ago, the sound of a boat sometimes spelled death for the heavily hunted sperm whale. Now, some of them have figured out, it means dinner.

Scientists recently figured out that sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska zero in on boat engines to locate miles of fishing lines hung with valuable sablefish.

"That's the whales' cue," said Jan Straley, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Southeast who since 2002 has helped lead the study.

Sperm whales don’t tune in to just any engine noise to track what are essentially miles of sablefish shish kebabs. The endangered whales key in on the engines’ sporadic bubbling as fishermen turn them on and off while hauling in longlines, the continuing study said.

The work has led researchers to recommend some low-cost ways for fishermen to hoodwink the highly intelligent cetaceans.

The researchers estimate there are 90 male sperm whales feeding from longlines in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, part of the world’s largest sablefish fishery. The whales leave behind partially chewed bodies, dismembered lips or nothing at all on the hooks."

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