October 5th, 2016 (Lynda V. Mapes). An endangered orca was likely killed by tagging when a scientist failed to adequately sterilize the tag shot into its body, a panel of experts has found.
An endangered orca was likely killed by tagging when a scientist failed to adequately sterilize the tag that was shot into its body, a panel of experts has found.
The killer whale, L-95, was found dead in Canadian waters off Vancouver Island in March. It was a member of the endangered southern resident killer whale population that frequents Puget Sound. There are only 82 whales in the J, K, and L pods today.
NOAA Fisheries was dismayed that the work of one of its scientists with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center may have been at the root of the whale’s death, said Richard Merrick, NOAA Fisheries chief scientist in a telephone news conference Wednesday.
The tag that may have killed the whale was shot at it unsuccessfully once and dropped into the sea. It was shot again at the whale, sticking in this time, after it fell in the water without being cleaned with bleach first, Merrick said.
A review panel convened to investigate the whale’s death found that it died of a severe fungal infection that may have been introduced by the tag. The tag had broken off and pieces that remained in the whale’s body, near major blood vessels, which may have been a contributing factor in the animal’s death, the panel found. The whale also was thin and in poor condition.
The tags contain satellite-linked transmitters that allow scientists to track where the whales roam in winter, when they leave Puget Sound. The agency needs to learn if adequate critical habitat has been set aside for the whales to aid their recovery. Seven whales in the three pods currently wear tags.
The tagging program has been suspended pending further investigation by more panels, including an independent scientific review convened by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
The whale was found near Nootka Island along the west side of Vancouver Island on March 30. The last transmission from its tag was Feb. 23, 2016.