NOAA Researchers May Have Killed Endangered Orca, One Of Only 83 Remaining, In Botched Tracking Implant Procedure

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may have accidentally killed a rare endangered orca while trying to implant a tracking device onto the killer whale. The scientists were attempting to track the orca by using a tracking dart. However, the researchers missed the killer whale on the first attempt and retrieved the dart from the water. However, the team did not properly sterilize the dart before successfully landing the device on the second attempt. As a result, the orca contracted a deadly fungal infection and died just five weeks later.

The Daily Mail reports that NOAA researchers are being blamed for the premature death of an endangered orca. The team was tagging the endangered killer whales off the coast of Washington when the fatal incident took place. The orca was one of just 83 of its kind remaining and the center of NOAA research. The scientists were attempting to tag some of the orcas in a bid to learn more about the endangered species. However, the research into the species likely led to the death of one of the male orcas as the tracking device may not have been properly sanitized before insertion into the creature’s skin, causing a deadly fungal infection.

CBC News notes that NOAA researchers believe that “human error” may have resulted in the death of the orca. The report indicates that the orca was swimming in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State when the potentially deadly tracking implant incident took place. The NOAA scientists say that after the first failed attempt to dart the animal, the dart was not properly sanitized. The tracking device reportedly should have been sanitized with both alcohol and bleach before it was inserted. However, the researchers say they believe, due to “human error,” the bleaching step was not performed.

“The proper protocol would have been to clean it with alcohol and with bleach, and I believe the bleach step did not happen, and that was just human error.”

Initially, the team believed the second tracking implant was successful and routine. However, in the days following the implant, the scientists began noticing startling problems with the killer whale. It was noted that the 20-year-old male orca was suffering from some sort of health condition. The orca may have died from a fungal infection that began due to the improperly sterilized tagging implant. The researchers say that the tagging could have also exasperated a previous ailment that the animal was suffering as a contributory factor.

“It’s possible this whale could have had something else, some other sort of illness we couldn’t determine.”

Though the tagging is believed to have contributed to the death, the scientists say the reports are currently inconclusive and it is possible the killer whale died from another health problem. The investigation into the killer whale’s death is still ongoing. In the meantime, NOAA has halted all device tagging programs and will be possibly making modifications to the implant process. Before changes are made, the NOAA says they will be monitoring the health of seven other tagged marine mammals and determine if the process is safe for the animals.

Do you think the tagging process for marine mammals should be altered to ensure that no other endangered animals die due to “human errors” in the implantation process?

[Featured Image by NOAA/AP Images]