Local News

New wildlife Tasers protect NOAA whale necropsy team

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SITKA, ALASKA
Mooney says the Tasers give wildlife authorities a powerful deterrent against a brown bear, should it be needed.

“In this particular situation, the Taser would have been used as a last defense before you might have to kill the bear if it actually charged the people.”

ADF&G worked with the NOAA necropsy team to set up a flagged perimeter around the whale. Three scouts patrolled the flag line, and a fourth watched the beaches from an anchored boat. In addition to the Tasers, those patrolling the perimeter were equipped with more conventional bear deterrents like cracker-shells, and the ultimate fallback, large caliber rifles or shotguns.

Mooney says the Tasers were used successfully last year at the Port Armstrong hatchery to create “an exclusion zone” for the safety of hatchery workers. Any bear entering the zone was hit with the Taser, even if it was not creating a problem.

A beached whale, though, is a natural attractant for bears, and an important food source in the early spring. Mooney says the plan did not call for the 17-member necropsy team to hold its ground in the event a curious bear arrived. In fact, the plan called for the exact opposite.

“The whole point would have been to not run the bear off. The cracker-shells would have been used to alert the people that we had a bear in the vicinity, and to quickly move to get everybody off the whale, out of the area, and to let the bear come to the whale.”

Mooney carried two different versions of the Taser: The X3W, which has a range of 25 to 30 feet depending on the cartridge, and is designed especially for wildlife; and the XREP, or eXtended-Range Electronic Projectile, which is a self-contained round fired from a shotgun. It can deliver a charge at a range of 45 meters.

Mooney says both these devices are still being studied by wildlife authorities. He does not anticipate that regular law enforcement officers in Sitka would carry them to haze problem bears, since police already carry Tasers calibrated for humans. He also doesn’t expect the wildlife Tasers to replace conventional deterrents for the outdoor-going public.

“At this point in time I don’t see a general consumer use of it. Taser International does make a personal Taser for that niche, where people are looking for personal protection. But at this stage I certainly wouldn’t recommend that you carry that in lieu of some other type of protection.”

The Tasers have other wildlife applications besides stopping a charging bear. Mooney says they’re being studied for “brief capture” situations, when you might want to temporarily disable a moose or deer in order to disentangle it from a fence. Mooney says using Tasers in wildlife management requires training. “This is a specialized niche.” He says. “We consider it one more option that we’re trained to use. One more tool in the toolbox when you’re dealing with large animals.”

Note: The whale necropsy was inconclusive. The animal had decomposed to the point where it was difficult to ascertain the condition of its internal organs. According to Rachel Dziuba, DVM, who led the necropsy, there was evidence of significant hemmorhaging on the whale’s right side, but since that was the side the animal was lying on, it was impossible to investigate. Once the skeleton has uncovered by scavengers and additional decomposition, it should be possible to determine if there was any fracturing on the right side.
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