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Environment

Federal scientists keep an eye on tagged gray whale after possible infection

Researchers are monitoring this gray whale after it potentially developed health complications due to a satellite tag being implanted in its body.
NOAA Fisheries
Researchers are monitoring this gray whale after it potentially developed health complications due to a satellite tag being implanted in its body.

Federal scientists say a gray whale that might have developed complications from a satellite tag appears to be doing OK.

It was tagged by NOAA Fisheries in September as part of a pilot study to track the movements of about 250 gray whales. They’re known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Group, and they stay in the Pacific Northwest during the summer.

Most gray whales migrate from California to Alaska. The whale, nicknamed Chocolate, was last seen off the coast of Vancouver Island.

In March, a panel of scientists from the U.S. and Canada observed lesions on its body that could indicate an infection. They administered four doses of antibiotics using a dart gun.

Sharon Melin, a NOAA wildlife biologist and program manager, says the whale is very active, and the lesions do not appear to pose any imminent danger.

“We are hopeful that once the satellite tag is extruded, the tissue around the target site will heal. But of course, we're going to continue to monitor the whale condition closely and respond if necessary," Melin said.

On average, the tags stay in about four months. The Canadian scientists also took breath samples of the gray whale to monitor for fungal infection. Results on that are expected in about two weeks.

In 2016, a Puget Sound southern resident killer whale that had been tagged by NOAA scientists died, likely from a fungal infection.

Timeline of tagging and treatment of gray whale
Credit NOAA Fisheries
Timeline of tagging and treatment of gray whale