Do Orcas At Marine Parks Injure One Another?

Tilikum as
Image via Wikipedia

One of the allegations in Killer In The Pool that SeaWorld pushed back hard on, was the assertion that Tilikum was abused by other killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando, and that aggression between killer whales in SeaWorld’s pools sometimes leads to serious injuries. Responding to the allegation, VP Of Communications Fred Jacobs said: “Injuries as part of the expression of social dominance are rare and almost never serious.”

Jacobs doesn’t say that serious injuries NEVER occur. Which is smart, because there is a pretty well known 1987 incident at SeaWorld Orlando in which a whale named Kotar bit a whale he did not get along with, named Kanduke, in the penis.  The bloody result closed SeaWorld shows down for a period, and Kotar was eventually shipped off  to SeaWorld San Antonio. He died there in 1995, when a pool gate he was playing with closed on his head and fractured his skull.

At the same time, Jacobs carefully worded response could easily give the impression that this is not a very serious phenomenon. And it would probably shock many in the public to see what some of the injuries actually look like. The second most notorious incident between two SeaWorld killer whales occurred in 1989, between two orcas called Kandu and Corky. Here is one description of what happened:

Kandu was a good performer, but she was also a moody orca. Waterworks were done with her but she showed aggressions to her trainers more than once. In 1984 she got pregnant with her first offspring. Unfortunately she gave birth to a dead calf on January 31, 1986.

Almost one year after, SeaWorld got 2 new orcas; Kandu immediately got along with the male Orky II and soon became pregnant with her second calf. On September 23, 1988, she gave birth to a female named Orkid. Kandu was a good and protective mother, so she wasn’t enthused when Corky, one of the other females showed interest in the new calf.

On August 21, 1989, Kandu was swimming laps in the back pool, while Orkid and Corky performed during a show. Kandu suddenly rushed into the show pool and rammed into Corky with her mouth being open. Corky was fine after the attack, but Kandu broke her jaw and started bleeding soon after. She immediately swam back to the back pool, where she died from severe blood loss.  Orkid was by her side.

This incident is tragic because it led to the death of a killer whale. But someone recently sent me a photo of what the scene looked like after Kandu returned to the back pool, and it is pretty shocking. It tells a story about what can happen in the pools that is totally at odds with the impression that SeaWorld often conveys: that there is some social jostling, but it is “almost never serious.” This looks pretty serious:

Kandu, bleeding to death

I find this picture immensely powerful, because it conveys a mostly hidden reality. And while it is probably the most extreme event in SeaWorld’s history (that we know of), there are many injuries and incidents which never get seen or reported.

For example, this year at SeaWorld I have been told two killer whales named Kalina and Kayla have not been getting along. From what I have been told, it was these two killer whales, in fact, that shut down the Believe Show on February 24, just before Dawn Brancheau was killed. It is not necessarily surprising that SeaWorld has to cope with conflict between its killer whales, given that they are brought together in a pretty random way (aggression between members of a family pod in the wild is almost nonexistent). But, again, you get a critical level of understanding when you get an actual first-hand report, and some pictures.

Here is an account (with pics) of what happened between Kalina and Kayla at the Believe Show at SeaWorld Orlando in June this summer:

The show commenced as it usually does with the opening show. Then, Kalina came out for the first major breach, the start of the show.

Kalina breaching.

Moments later, Kayla raced into the pool. I could instantly sense this was not part of the show, as Kalina suddenly seemed very skittish. Moments later, Kayla collided with Kalina in the centre of the pool, causing a scuffle that went on for several seconds, water thrashing about and squeals from the orcas.
Straight after, Kayla left and raced into the back pool, leaving Kalina to swim laps about the pool on her own, disobeying and refusing to listen to trainers orders, as one of the trainers came out to talk to the crowd, the show halting at this point.

The trainers attempted to place Kalina into the back pool, the same as the others (at this point it housed Katina, Kayla, Trua, Nalani and Malia), which Kalina flatly refused, opting to swim laps about the pool instead. The show continued, ignoring Kalina who ignored all instructions and just swam laps.
Anytime Kayla entered the pool, Kalina would approach the gate to the opposite back pool and cower there, as if trying to get away. The gate was never opened, despite Kalina flatly refusing to co-operate throughout the show, despite several times approaching trainers.

Kalina, waiting at the gate.

In the finale of the show, Kalina finally decided to start obeying orders. This was fine, but what disturbed me at the end, was that Kalina was again, sent to the same back pool as Kayla.

My sense is that this sort of fracas is not that unusual. But it’s hard to know, because they only become public when they occur during shows and are documented. Anyhow, here is the result. When Kayla initially rammed Kalina, she put a gash right above her eye (luckily she did not take out the eye):

Kalina got the worst of it.

So how did SeaWorld address the incident, and the lack off cooperation from the whales that resulted? Happily, my source filmed that, so we can listen to the trainer trying to explain it to the audience.

“There are just days that they just want to play with one another and be extremely social,” he says. I think that qualifies as stretching the definition of “play” and “extremely social.” Anyhow, watch for yourself, and observe one of the talents required to be a SeaWorld trainer:

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35 thoughts on “Do Orcas At Marine Parks Injure One Another?”

  1. Question:

    Isn’t this aggression why Seaworld drills the teeth of Orcas? So they do not harm each other when this aggression occurs?

    It would seem to me that if you have to drill an orca’s teeth with an electric Dremmel drill down to the pulp, with no pain management (orcas cannot be given anesthesia) until the bleeding stops (that is now the trainers know they went deep enough), in order to make them “manageable” in captivity, then they should not be able to be kept captive.

    I have heard that the teeth drilling is described as “excellent dental care, like a teeth cleaning”. This is a blatant lie as far as I am concerned.

    It also seems that this aggression is because the whales are forced to be together in such a small area. (i.e not the ocean)

    1. The tooth drilling is done because when the orcas break their teeth on the tanks and gates the pulp is explosed and rots. So they drill the pulp out to prevent infection but constantly have to flush the teeth or the food gets stuck and will also rot and cause infection. The flushing of the food from the drilled teeth is then call excellent “husbandry” $eaworld provides to their whales.

  2. That picture of Kandu is gut wrenching.

    I wonder how often this happens and we don’t hear about it. I would suspect it is often. And this is the direct result of confining orcas together from mixed, unrelated populations (Icelandic, Residents, Transients, Bred hybrids) in a closed, unnatural setting.

    We know orcas suffer in captivity. We know trainers are at risk if they get back in the water. How many more orcas and trainers have to die before it outweighs the profits of the captive industry?

  3. I truly believe with the horrific events that seem to be surfacing as of late, continue to be made public, SW will have to make some big changes! Perhaps if somehow they could profit from their release they may

    be more apt to initiate the process. We all know SW is not going to make humane decisions, unless it benefits them monetarily.

  4. Tim, thank you. Your writing is informative and provocative, and much appreciated. It also confirms what former trainer John Jett claimed early in this debate; that is, orca violence and social strife is much more common than SW and other marine parks would like the public to realize. I wonder what else lies behind the cloak of secrecy that SW so energetically maintains.

  5. I’m sure these incidents are more common than the general public is made aware of. It was clearly evident during the Believe show prior to Dawn Brancheau’s death that the trainers were, and are never really in control. Even during that show SeaWorld downplayed the seriousness of the situation, during the aggresive behavior, during the show cancellation and later after the show. They claimed there were no indications of any problems with the orcas during news conferences following Dawn’s death. But in fact there were. It shows they want to give their patrons the perception they have “tamed the wild beast” when in all actuality, they have created a more dangerous animal. They’ve learned to modify some behaviors (which need to be performed in order to eat and survive) but in the end orcas will always do what THEY want to do. And serious injuries and death will continue for both orcas and the humans that choose to work with them in a captive environment.

  6. Thank you so much, Tim Zimmermann, for your continued efforts in bringing awareness to the disturbing truths of orca captivity at SeaWorld.

    When these animals are maintained in such highly-abnormal conditions, both environmentally and socially, of course, serious problems will arise. In the wild, orcas of different ecotypes are genetically distinct, never interbreeding, and actually avoid each other for the most part when in the same range; however, resident orcas have been known to become aggressive toward transient orcas, perhaps if some threat is perceived to their young, as transients are known to prey upon marine mammals. Orcas within ecotypes are NOT observed being aggressive or violent toward one another in their natural environment–in fact, their culture is centered around togetherness, cooperation and socialization amongst their community.

    At SeaWorld, orcas of different ecotype are captive in the same microcosm and interbred, resulting in highly-unnatural conditions, and therefore, highly-unnatural behaviors. This just doesn’t fit the fantasy image that SeaWorld is selling, so they continue to conceal these issues from the public and gloss over the continued problems of dominance and aggression that they’ve created by maintaining these artificial “pods”. The problems are serious enough and enough is now known about the natural behaviors of orcas to know that it is entirely inhumane and cruel to keep them captive in this way, and it should be discontinued as soon as possible!

  7. I would like to add onto this topic that there IS video footage of the Kandu V vs. Corky attack, seen in this video, starting @ :50 seconds (it’s in German, and it also covers Keltie Byrne’s death at Sealand of the Pacific in the first part of the clip):

    It is grainy, so apologies – I know there is a better, clearer version of the attack and the aftermath in the documentary “A Fall from Freedom.”

  8. I guess the part about these photos that bothers me the most is the fact that I received an animal welfare magazine (The Animals Voice) with this photo of Kandu bleeding to death on the cover and the caption, ‘and thanks for all the fish.’ That was close to 20 years ago. Its easy to get discouraged, but lets keep up the good work, guys!

  9. “Where there is a mind, there are feelings such as pain, pleasure, and joy. No sentient being wants pain: all wants happiness instead.” – Dalai Lama

    “There’s about as much educational benefit studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary.” – Jacques Cousteau

    “We are all animals of this planet. We are all creatures. And nonhuman animals experience pain sensations just like we do. They too are strong, intelligent, industrious, mobile, and evolutional. They too are capable of growth and adaptation. Like us, firsthand foremost, they are earthlings. And like us, they are surviving. Like us they also seek their own comfort rather than discomfort. And like us they express degrees of emotion. In short like us, they are alive.”- Joaquin Phoenix | quote from EARTHLINGS

  10. While SeaWorld can deny the claims that Tilikum is bullied by the other whales it’s clear that he is. Even in the whild an adult male would only live with his mother not the females he was breeding with. Tilikum is isolated because the females bully him. Only Takara and Taimia could be left alone with him without incident. Neither of which is at the Orlando park anymore so that leaves the young babies. The calves (Malia, Trua, and Nalani) are allowed around him. They especially like to stick the young male Trua with him because there is no other whale they can use. But it’s clear the young females and even male do not want to be around him and would rather be with their mothers and the rest of the pod. For undeniable evidence he is bullied by the females one need only visit the park. If you look at the back of Tilikums dorsal fin you will see a semi circle cut out of the base. For a long time the detached chunk of skin was seen hanging off the cut but I believe has seen fallen off. This was done by one of the females during a session when they had them together. SeaWorld can’t dispute a chunk missing from their big males fin but if you ask about it they will use a clever PR answer.

  11. Every animal on this planet should have the to right to free will, to live in the habitat that they were genetically designed to reside in and be free from harm and from the whims of humans. The Orca’s at SW and other such places do not have any of the above. Orca’s at SW dont even get a choice of whom they are to breed, this is forced a apon them for the benefit of SW and SW alone.
    The use of dolphins and orca’s in captivity is a practice that must be assigned to the history books where they belong.

  12. I hadn’t noticed the detail that Corky was performing with Orkid. Since Kandu was very protective, and Orca are highly intelligent, perceptive animals, I would hazard a guess that she was merely protecting what was hers!

    What we know:

    1. Kandu was very protective and dominant.
    2. Kandu was Icelandic.
    3. Corky is from A5 pod off the cost of British Columbia.
    4. Corky was performing with Orkid, Kandu’s daughter.

    What we can surmise:

    1. Kandu was protecting Orkid.
    2. It is highly likely Kandu and Corky had no better way of communicating than exhibiting aggression (they were from completely different ends of the Earth).
    3. SeaWorld should’ve been more sensitive to the Orca’s natural instincts and not been so careless as to frustrate Kandu in such a way.

  13. I’m just shaking my head….just shaking my head. Disturbing. Infuriating. Inexcusable. SO sad.

  14. I think that SeaWorld to show of the Killer Whale, close down. They need to have send to wild life on their own and be happy. I noticed that killer whale has been injured and suffer as slave. Another mammal display for the kids to see and learning. Not miracle display of killer whale is. Ridiculous. PETA will work on it. Please close down for one showing. Not care about rather money from patrons. Most important let Killer Whale go!!!!!

  15. just leave the whales in the ocean!!!!! they dont belong in a fish tank, damn it… leave them alone!!

  16. If the film is just trying to exploit a tragedy what have they got to gain by that ‘I ask you seaworld’, on the OTHER hand. what has seaworld got to gain by keeping the animals in captivity and trying to hide and sweep under the carpet all the trainers attacked, ORCA’s attacked etc. MONEY MONEY MONEY.

  17. First, thanks for this information Tim Z. How can SeaWorld call this incident (and so many others) PLAY? This is not play. These whales are beyond frustrated and bored and completely mixed up. They are captive slaves to the entertainment industry. You can’t take whales from different origins and plop them in a bathtub and expect them to be happy and ‘play’ nice. The one thing that I despise is being lied to. So, SeaWorld stop the BS and empty the tanks. For the rest of us, we can stop supporting captivity – just “don’t buy a ticket”. It’s a good place to start.

  18. Was the death of Orky in a “collision” with another male “accidental” as reported, or were there behavioral issues involved.

    I used to visit Orky and Corky at Marineland. I comforted myself with the thought that they would have more space ar Sea World San Diego.
    In fact they were worse off because there were so many unrelated orcas crammed together.
    Orky and Corky were a mating pair. Several pregnancies, with no surviving pup.
    Life in a tank is so unnatural.

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