A civilian contractor who worked with the Navy’s marine mammal program died during a nighttime diving exercise in the San Diego Bay on Monday.
Coll Perske, 29, was taking part in an exercise near the boat launch at Naval Air Station North Island when he did not resurface, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office.
The ME said co-workers helped Perske to the surface and performed CPR. Paramedics arrived and transported him to the UC San Diego Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The ME declared the cause of death as an accidental drowning.
The Navy is investigating the incident, but initial reports indicate the animals had no contact with Perske before he became unresponsive, said Navy spokesman Jim Fallin.
As a result of Perske’s death, the Navy has suspended all non-essential marine mammal exercises.
Perske was employed by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and worked for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific's (SSC Pacific) Marine Mammal Program.
Fallin said this is the first death for the marine mammal program, which started in 1959.
SSC Pacific’s Commanding Officer Captain Kurt Rothenhaus called Perske’s death “a tremendous loss to all of us.”
"I want to express my sincerest and deepest condolences to the family, along with the many friends and teammates our SAIC colleague had here at SSC Pacific," Rothenhaus said in a statement.
SAIC also expressed its condolences and appreciation for Perske.
“Perske had been a member of the SAIC family and the marine mammal program for more than five years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends,” the statement read.
The Navy’s marine mammal program, based out of Point Loma, teaches bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions to detect underwater mines and stop enemy divers.
Check back for updates on this developing story.