Orca Dies of Fungal Infection After Tagging

A male orca, part of a small community off the Canadian shoreline has been found dead after being tagged with a satellite tracking device by NOAA scientists. Satellite tagging of these animals is routine and up until now not thought to carry a risk to their health.

This sad death has led to NOAA looking closely at how they use tags as they suspect that a wound caused by a contaminated tag was part of the cause of the fungal infection that appears to have killed it. An autopsy/necropsy on the long dead body identified Zygomycetes as the pathogen concerned, however it was not possible to be certain as the body had been decomposing for some time.

Subsequent enquiries have identified a sequence of events that included the scientists who implanted the device failing to completely follow the sterilisation protocol for the device after it had fallen into the sea.

There is now a robust discussion ongoing on the relative merits of continuing the practice of satellite tags balancing the risk of infection against the valuable information gained about the life cycle and range of these creatures.

Editor-in-Chief , National Aspergillosis Centre
Editor-in-Chief, Research Associate for the National Aspergillosis Centre and PPI Lead for Respiratory Section of the Manchester Biomedical Research Centre