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How NOAA Researchers' Geotagging Program May Have Killed an Endangered Orca

Oct 11, 2016 10:03 AM EDT

In a shocking turn of events, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) geotagging program may have killed an endangered orca after implanting the tracking device on the animal.

According to a report from the Associated Press, the 20-year-old Orca was found dead off the coast of Vancouver on March 30, five weeks after NOAA researchers installed the small satellite-linked device.

About the size of a 9-volt battery with two 2-inch titanium darts, the transmitter is designed to be detached from the animal's body. However, the dead orca found in the British Coast had fragments of the dart tags still attached on its dorsal fins.

The necropsy review posted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada revealed that fungus entered into the whale's blood stream through the darts. Because of this, the orca suffered from a fungal infection resulting to a compromised immune system.

“It’s devastating to think this could have happened. We’re trying to take stock of the report and comments and figure how best to move forward,” said Brad Hanson, head of the orca tagging program.

NOAA Fisheries' chief scientists told the Associated Press that the agency is "deeply dismayed that one of their tags may have had something to do with the death of this whale."

Meanwhile, various animal rights groups were enraged after hearing about the dead orca incident.

"In my opinion, the tag attachment methodology was overly barbaric and defective from the get-go, and the entire tagging program should be rethought and evaluated for efficacy," said Kenneth Balcomb, senior scientists at the Center for Whale Research. "The NOAA/NMFS tagging program is certainly injuring and disfiguring these Endangered icons of the Pacific Northwest."

Due to the recent events, NOAA has decided to suspend its satellite tagging program and is currently conducting a review. They are considering new taggoing restictions among orcas, whales and dolphins.

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