Over the weekend I learned a little bit more about the incident that led to Nakai’s injury, and Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust visited SeaWorld in San Diego and took some more pictures of Nakai’s injury. Here is the most detailed photo she took (more photos after the jump):
Regarding the question of whether the injury might come from a bite from another orca, Visser writes: “Of note is that in [this photo], at the bottom right of the wound, near the trainers shoe in the photo, there are four puncture marks – and the spacing matches that for orca teeth – as you can see from Nakai’s teeth in this same photo.”
And here is some additional detail on what happened that night when Nakai was injured. As a number of people have noted, the injury occurred after Sea World San Diego closed to the general public for the evening. Sometimes SeaWorld puts on special shows for corporate groups, and the evening show on the
29th (oope, typo) 20th was such a show.
During the show Nakai, Keet and Ike were all at stage when all three killer whales suddenly took off without warning and and started fighting with one another. SeaWorld’s review of the tapes could not identify an instigator or an aggressor. As I wrote last week, Nakai split into the back pool. Ike and Keet, however, returned to the stage and control, so the trainers continued the show. When trainers finally called Nakai over later that evening for the final feeding and saw that he was injured they were shocked be the severity of the wound. In fact, it is about as bad a wound as most trainers have ever seen. In response, SeaWorld San Diego will henceforth adopt the practice of immediately checking any killer whales involved in similar, high-intensity, melees to try and make sure that injuries are identified right away.
Apart from the death of Kandu V at SeaWorld San Diego in 1989, the only injury many trainers can remember that was even close in severity to Nakai’s was a 1990s injury to Splash, who lost part of his jaw when he was thrown by Takara against a gate while they were messing around. The gate had a chain and latching hook that was normally covered by a safety box. But, I am told, the box cover had not been had not been put in place over the hook and the hook ripped part of Splash’s jaw away. SeaWorld staff tried to staple the severed piece back to Splash’s jaw, but, partly due to the constant water pressure on the jaw, it never healed properly leaving Splash with a disfigured, though still functioning, jaw.
Splash’s injury was perhaps over a wider area of the jaw, but Nakai’s wound is apparently much deeper.
Another aspect of the incident that has been puzzling is Keet’s involvement. Keet is a sub-dominant male who was moved to SeaWorld San Diego from Texas earlier this year, in hopes of finding a better social environment for him. Normally, Keet avoids conflict, so it was strange that he was in the middle of the action along with Nakai and Ike (who also moved to SeaWorld San Diego in the past year). However, there is a backstory to Keet’s relationship with Nakai that may or may not be relevant. Keet is well-trained in the semen donation procedure for SeaWorld’s Artificial Insemination (AI) program, and is a regular and prolific donor. Earlier this year, Keet was on his back during an AI session to extract semen. Nakai was also in the pool, and suddenly split from his trainer. He swam over to Keet and bit him hard on his erect penis. The bite caused a lengthy period of extensive bleeding, and Nakai is no longer allowed to be in the pool with Keet during AI sessions.
It’s impossible to say how an incident like that might connect to the incident in which Nakai was injured. But it is a reminder of how complex the relationship between killer whales at marine parks is, and how there are daily interactions that affect the social structure and stability. If you throw in the fact that there are now nine killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego (which is rare), with three having arrived in the past year and a baby from Kasatka on the way, you have a situation in which it must be very difficult for trainers to stay completely on top of all the interactions and incidents that daily affect the relationships between the killer whales.
Here are a few more pictures of Nakai: