Marine mammals foraging around fishing gear or preying upon fishing catch and bait: it may not be “depredation”
Some populations of marine mammals (particularly odontocete cetaceans, and pinnipeds) have responded to the expansion of fisheries by modifying their behaviour to take advantage of the foraging opportunities provided by fishing. This has led to interactions that include forms of “depredation”, referring to the removal of, or damage to, marketable organisms as well as bait from fishing gear. The current scientific and technical usage of depredate or depredation appears inconsistent with some of the meanings found in dictionaries, such as to plunder (typically using force), pillage, ravage, lay waste, despoil, destroy, commit waste, or ransack. We suggest that the use of “depredation” when referring to marine mammal behaviour could strengthen misperception and misunderstanding, hardening notions that they are unfairly taking or destroying what is ours. Though most contemporary researchers do not mean to imply that predators are “stealing our fish”, continued reference to the mammals’ behaviour as depredation may reinforce, at least in some minds, the belief that fish and other marine resources “belong” only to humans. Alternative wording would help to prevent ambiguity in communications, especially outside the scientific community, and preserve recognition of the ecological roles that large marine predators play.