SEATTLE (CBS Seattle/AP) – Biologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service in Seattle plan to attach tiny satellite devices on Puget Sound’s endangered orcas to help better understand where they go during winter. But some whale experts worry the tags — about the size of a 9-volt battery with two darts — could injure the orcas.
While dart tags have been used on other whale species, this is the first time they would be used on the killer whales that frequent the inland waters of Washington state and British Columbia.
The orcas spend summer months in Puget Sound, but Brad Hanson, a member of the team from Seattle planning to tag the whales said, “That’s only half the story. We don’t know where they spend the bulk of their time.”
Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., is one of the people against tagging the whales. “The dart tags are too invasive,” Balcomb said. “I don’t believe the injury to the animals is warranted. It’s an injurious process. It sticks barbs in the whales that are serious attachment devices that do cause injury and can potentially become infected.”
The whale’s tissue will be impacted but will heal, Hanson said. “Within a few weeks, it basically heals back up, so you’re left with a couple of marks,” he added. They’re within the range of scars and marks that whales encounter naturally. Hanson proposes tagging up to six orcas.