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Male Orca Found Dead in Canadian Waters Most Likely Died Due to Human Error

Oct 06, 2016 06:04 AM EDT

Officials have announced that the male killer whale found in the Canadian waters off Vancouver Island died due to an easily preventable human error.

According to the official necropsy report, the 20-year old orca died due to severe fungal infection that may have been introduced by a satellite tag shot to its body by one of the scientists at Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

"We are deeply dismayed that one of these tags may have had something to do with the death of one of these whales," said Richard Merrick, NOAA Fisheries chief scientist, in a report from Seattle Times. "It is our job to reduce risk and that is what we will do."

Investigators at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada are looking into many factors that may have predisposed the whale to a fungal infection in the tagging site. One factor being looked into is the possibility that the whale has a compromised immune system when it was tag making it vulnerable to fungi infection, especially when the tag is near a significant blood vessel.

Other factor being looked into is the possibility of human error. Merrick noted that the tag used in the whale must have been shot unsuccessfully at first and dropped into the ocean. The tag was retrieved and used once again to shot the whale. The second shot was successful. However, scientists responsible for tagging the whale must have forgotten to properly sterilize the tag with bleach before using it again.

The death of the whale may temporarily suspend the tagging program of NOAA or may also completely shut it down. The tag used in the whale is a satellite-linked limpet-style tag. It contains a transmitter no more than the size of 9-volt battery and has two titanium darts just over two inches long to attached to the whale. The tag is designed to detach by itself overtime without any trace in the whale.

However, investigators reported that the tag is broken off and there are pieces remained in the whale's body near major blood vessels, which may also contribute to the whale's death. Further investigation is being conducted. However, the tagging program of NOAA is suspended until all the matters are resolved.

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