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Satellite tag infection kills endangered orca

A male orca from an endangered orca community has died following an infection caused by a research satellite tag.

The orca, known by the ID number L95, belonged to the shrinking Southern Resident orca population. L95 was found dead around a month after scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US scientific agency responsible for recovery of the Southern Residents, tagged him earlier this year.

Investigations into the cause of death revealed small pieces of the tag hardware in the tissue of L95’s dorsal fin, which probably caused a fungal infection, and ultimately led to his death

NOAA researchers have been tracking the Southern Resident orcas to gather more information on where they travel during the winter in an effort to help this endangered group. Tagging efforts were stopped after L95 was found, and will not continue in the near future. 

According to Colleen Weiler, WDC’s Jessica Rekos Fellow for Orca Conservation, “The intent of the project was to gather data to enhance protections for this threatened population, but it has resulted in a tragic loss.  We applaud NOAA’s decision to halt this tagging program, and urge the Agency to use existing data to expand designated critical habitat before it’s too late.”