Orca's death prompts NOAA to suspend whale tagging program
A controversial orca tagging program in the U.S. has been suspended after a necropsy found that a tag contributed to the death of an endangered whale.
A 20-year-old orca named L95 was found dead off the coast of Vancouver Island in March, five weeks after being tagged with a satellite tracking device by U.S. researchers.
“This would absolutely be painful. Killer whales have sensitive skin, similar to the sensitivity of our skin,” Dr. Anna Hall, a marine biologist, said.
“This is a very invasive way of studying animals. Any wild animal with a tag that is basically surgically attached to the animal’s skin.”
According to experts, this is a one-of-a-kind case.
“This is to my knowledge the first case where it appears the tag deployment was a contributing factor to the death of an animal,” said Dr. John Ford, head of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has claimed responsibility following the release of a necropsy. The examination cited the tag entry point was a pathway for a fungal infection that ultimately claimed the animal’s life.
NOAA has suspended its tagging program indefinitely.
Scientists on the island don’t use tagging for orcas, but it is used on other species.
“We do use the same tags on large whales including fin whales and grey whales,” Ford said. “They’ve helped us identify critical habitat for these species off the west coast of Canada.”
According to the DFO, the species is under threat with only 82 southern residents along the west coast, another reason why biologists say humans need to take extra care of the rare animals.
“It was a tragic death, perhaps a preventable death,” Hall noted. “There is nothing we can do now that will ever bring that animal back. What we can do is learn from this.”