“This infection may have been introduced at the tag wound. We don't know the source of the infection or fungus but it may have been present on the whale's skin,” NOAA chief scientist Richard Merrick explained. “NOAA and the biologists that work on these whales are deeply dismayed that one of their tags may have had something to do with the death of this whale.”
Remnants of the satellite-linked tag were still in L95's fin, even though it's supposed to detach once the tag is implanted.
Michael Harris, from the Pacific Whale Watch foundation, appeared on KIRO7's Facebook Live Stream to discuss the findings.
He believes the dart tag killed L95.
NOAA announced an orca died due to an infection caused by satellite tagging. >> kiro.tv/l95DeathPosted by KIRO 7 News on Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Siemny Kim talks with Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, for a report about the death. >> kiro.tv/l95Death
“The opportunity for this whale to pick up a fungal infection without the darting, I guess theoretically could happen. Right now it's pretty clear what the source is, and that’s what was conveyed to us,” Harris said.
Merrick also revealed that extenuating factors may have predisposed the orca to a fungal infection, including human error.
“One was the incomplete sterilization of the tag, which fell into the water after an initial unsuccessful tagging attempt,” Merrick added.
The tagging program will continue to be suspended until NOAA completes a review of the program.
Harris says NOAA needs to follow the lead of Canadian scientists who do not tag killer whales at all.
And critics say this is why a controversial tagging program needs to be permanently banned.
“So you have horribly invasive, nonessential type of research on an endangered pop, food stressed animal, and now human error introduced in the equation, that can only lead to one thing, and that’s a dead whale,” Harris said.