Researcher killed by electrocution while studying bats at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Posted at 6:55 PM, Aug 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-22 18:55:19-04

Dedicated and outgoing are just a few of the words used to describe Dr. Laura McLellan.

McLellan worked as an adjunct professor at Indian River State College for three years but has been a wildlife researcher for 35 years.

On Sunday, investigators with the Martin County Sheriff's Office say McLellan was electrocuted while researching bats at Jonathan Dicksinson State Park in Hobe Sound.

According to MCSO, the 60-year old accidentally touched a power line with a 24-foot pole while trying to catch bats for a study she was working on.

IRSC released a statement Monday, saying "Dr. Laura McLellan served as an Adjunct Professor in Biology at IRSC since 2013, primarily teaching General Biology and Anatomy and Physiology. She was a dedicated, knowledgeable scientist who very much enjoyed working with students.  Her colleagues in the Biology Department met with her Thursday at the Adjunct Faculty Meeting where Dr. McClellan shared her enthusiasm about starting the Fall Semester.  She was also very excited about her research project to identify the different types of bats living in the area. We are greatly saddened by this tragic loss of a very friendly, outgoing person dedicated to helping students learn. "

David Hitzig, executive director of Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, didn't know McLellan but he was familiar with her work.

"The information that she's gained, her knowledge-- is probably irreplaceable," he said.

While many people fear bats, Hitzig said the research McLellan did on the flying mammal was crucial to its existence.

"Bats are very beneficial and actually can help us greatly... especially now with the talk about Zika and everything else-- a bat's main diet is mosquitoes," Hitzig said.

Hitzig said bats are very common in Florida and are an important part of the local ecosystem. He said it's important scientists continue to research the mammal along with other animals.

"Research is very, very important-- understanding how animals work, how they are part of our environment, and also the benefits they can provide to us. A lot of people don't understand the vital impact that humans have on the environment and wildlife. The more that we can learn about animals and their needs, and how our interaction in the environment affects those animals-- we can help protect them better," Hitzig said.

According to McLellan's LinkedIn profile, the scientist was trying to find a full time wildlife research position or a college teaching position in south Florida.

Staff at IRSC say she was a part time employee, and that the research done at the park was not for the college. It was for a side project funded through a grant, staff say.