A giant chunk of flesh was gouged out of an orca’s chin at SeaWorld on September 20th. The orca, 11-year-old Nakai, suffered a wound so deep that it “exposes both underlying tissue and bone,” reports Tim Zimmerman. SeaWorld’s only explanation is that Nakai “came into contact with a portion of the pool,” according to the U-T San Diego.
That must have been one heck of a “contact”:
Stills available at Tim Zimmermann
Orcas, also known as killer whales, have not fared well in captivity. Two former SeaWorld trainers wrote a report, available at The Orca Project, detailing the stressors that reduce captive orcas’ median lifespan from 30-50 years to about nine. They write:
Typically spending their entire lives within tight family groupings, orcas captured from the wild…have been traumatically extracted from the security, comfort and mentoring which these groupings provide. Captured animals are confined to small, acoustically-dead, concrete enclosures where they must live in extremely close proximity to other whales with which they often share no ancestral, cultural or communication similarities. The resultant infighting amongst captive orcas is exacerbated by virtue of having no place to run, as confinement fails to provide spatial escape options that natural settings offer. As a result, social strife is common in captivity, including aggression, in which whales are cut, raked, and rammed, usually by members higher on the social ladder.
SeaWorld has a long history of injuries and death to both orcas and human trainers that demonstrates the mammals are better off in the wild. 24 orcas died in 25 years at SeaWorld, according to Care2.
According to the report by former SeaWorld trainers, in 2009-2010 two trainers were killed by captive orcas. In 1989, an orca was injured and spent 45 agonizing minutes “spouting blood from her blowhole” until she died in view of the public. In 2010, an orca died of “bacterial septicemia”; ”it is not clear how bacteria entered her bloodstream.”
The stress of captivity often causes orcas ulcers, the former trainers report. It also leads to boredom and physical deconditioning because the captives cannot swim the 100 miles a day that they would cover in the wild. The orcas suffer loneliness because in the wild, they “spend their entire lives with family members,” while marine parks commonly move young whales away from their families to other parks. Each family, or pod, may have its own language and customs, and when orcas are held in pools with unrelated animals, failures to communicate, along with stress and frustration, can cause friction and violence among tank mates.
It remains to be seen whether and how well Nakai will recover from his injury, which SeaWorld is treating with antibiotics. Even if he recovers fully, he will likely remain in a tank with animals he has fought with, submerged in chemically-treated water, and fed an artificial diet, as Care2 has reported.
Photo credit: Ingrid Visser/Orca Research Trust