Whales, Wildlife & Wilderness                                                                                                                                                 Pam & Wayne Osborn

Orcas & The Herring Fleet

Smart and Sentient


The cultural adaptability of orcas has led them to take advantage of feeding opportunities presented by the herring fishing fleet. Trawlers use pumps to get the fish on board and the acoustically alert orcas can hear the pumps from at least 10 nautical miles. It's an opportunistic,  lower energy alternative to their ‘carousel feeding’ method. There is spillage from the nets and these fish can be tired and disorientated - an easy meal for the orcas. This image series shows the orcas working in and around a herring fleet near Skjervøy. At times they seemed very close to the boats but there didn’t seem to be any animosity with the fisherman. That’s not the case in some other parts of the world.

Follow the Herring


The Norwegian herring numbers plumeted at the end of the 1960‘s due to overfishing. As stocks recovered, the herring began to overwinter in the fjords rather than offshore waters. For the past six or seven years, schools of migrating herring have invaded the fjords of Tromsø during November. The orcas and humpbacks followed their favoured food. In late 2017 the herring did not migrate to the Tromsø fjords but were found further to the northeast in the fjords around Skjervøy. That is were most of these images were taken.

Once Culled - A Threat to The Herring Fishery


At one time orcas were perceived as a threat to the Norwegian herring fishery and nearly 2,500 were culled in the 40 years to 1981.

Turning the Tables - Orcas - A Bad Rap in Other Places


Today it seems accepted these interactions are not a risk to the herring fishery (at least as far I could find out).  I found some bizarre headlines online such as "Whale Predation on Fishing boats" and the lurid "Gangs of Aggressive Killer Whales are Shaking Down Alaskan Fishing Boats." How the tables have turned - that second headline evokes Melville's Moby Dick (sperm whales are also supposed bad actors in the  fish stealing business). In an ironic twist, whales that once fled from the noise of fishing boats are now targeting them as whale populations recover.  Cod and halibut fishermen in the Bering Sea are discovering just how intelligent and innovative these sentient marine mammals are.

The Havglans is a 63 metre trawler, 1363 gross tonnes built in 2007