(NewsNation) — Nine orca whales have died after being caught in fishery equipment off the Alaska coast this year.
A total of 10 of these killer whales were caught in groundfish trawl fisheries by the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island. Only one of them was released alive.
Orca whale deaths as a result of fishing equipment have been on the rise since 2020, with instances peaking in 2023. Between 2016 and 2020, only five orca whales were caught and killed by fishing gear in the region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Researchers are working to determine the exact cause of death and analyzing the whales’ genetic data to determine which species they belong to, the NOAA said in a statement.
Experts believe these orcas likely weren’t part of the Southern Resident species, of which there were only 73 left in 2022.
In addition, NOAA Fisheries is reviewing information regarding an orca whale caught during an Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s longline survey in June.
“On June 7, a dead killer whale was observed entangled in gear on the Central Bering Sea slope. The incident was reported and is under review in accordance with required reporting procedures,” according to the NOAA statement.