Nakai Photos and Backstory

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):

(c) Ingrid Visser

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.

(c) Ingrid Visser

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 Continue reading “Nakai Photos and Backstory”

Nakai Injury Update

Okay, here’s what I have been told about Nakai’s injury at SeaWorld California.

First: it is a serious injury, with a dinner plate-sized chunk of his lower mandible sheared off, exposing underlying tissues, and bone. The most serious concern, I think, is the possibility of a bad, possibly even life-threatening, infection.

Second: It happened last week during a night show, seemingly during a major altercation involving Nakai, Keet, and Ike. It’s not clear if there was an aggressor or instigator, or if they all suddenly went after each other. In response to the altercation, Nakai split to the back pool. The onstage trainers, not realizing how badly injured he was, continued the show with the other whales. It was only when they called Nakai over later that night that they realized he was seriously hurt.

Third: SW is not sure how the injury happened. Right now they believe it was due to blunt force trauma, but I’m not sure how that squares with the description of the injury in which a sizable piece of flesh on Nakai’s lower jaw was, in essence, sliced off. The piece was big enough and intact enough for SeaWorld to retrieve it from the bottom of the pool.

After Ike was brought into SeaWorld California from Marineland in Ontario, many people felt–particularly with Kasatka due to produce a calf–that SeaWorld would be wise to move Nakai elsewhere. Obviously, in retrospect that looks like it would have been a smart move. But the fact is, controlling the social aggression between the killer whales in SeaWorld’s pools appears to be a very delicate and difficult challenge no matter what SeaWorld facility you are talking about, and what whales you are trying to mix together (see here, and here).

Nakai’s injury is just the latest reminder of that difficult fact.

If I get more details I will post them over on my Facebook page.

Keet Headed To SeaWorld California

One of the realities for SeaWorld’s killer whales is movement from park to park. The next killer whale to be transported will be Keet, who will be shipped from SeaWorld Texas to SeaWorld California sometime early this year. I had heard some noise about Keet’s pending transport a little while back, and Candace Calloway Whiting of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently received a document in response to a FOIA request that indicates SeaWorld had notified the National Marine Fisheries Service sometime before Nov. 2, 2011 of its intention to move Keet.

Keet was born at SeaWorld Texas, to Kalina (and Kotar), in February 1993, and was the first second-generation marine park bred killer whale. Kalina was moved to SeaWorld Florida in 1994 (when Keet was just 20 months old), and according to his profile by 1999 Keet was increasingly abused by Haida and Ky. The profile goes on to say:

“During this time, Keet began to avoid separations into pools with the other whales by leaving control and regurgitating. Keet continues to be the subdominant whale, regardless of the social structure. He has on occasion been raked by other whales to the point where he will shiver.”

Keet was moved to SeaWorld California in November 1999, and bounced around a bit between SWC and SeaWorld Ohio before returning to SeaWorld Texas in 2004. By all accounts, he is a reliable and consistent killer whale when it comes to working with trainers and performing. But he continues to be a subdominant whale who struggles in the social order, and has the scarring to show it. His situation, I have heard, is comparable to that of Tekoa in Loro Parque.

Anatomy Of An Orca Transport: Cranes, Planes, And Automobiles

Keto At His Latest Destination (Credit: Estel Moore)There are killer whales on the move. Ike has been transported from Marineland to SeaWorld San Diego. A rescued killer whale called Morgan is threatened with transport from the Netherlands to Loro Parque, unless a judge blocks it (ruling will be issued Nov. 21). And I’ve been getting word that there might be other transfers within the SeaWorld park system.

For those of you who can’t imagine what it is like to ship an orca, or have never seen what is involved, here is a set of pics from my friend KC. They show Keto being crated for transport, from SeaWorld San Diego to SeaWorld Ohio, in April 2000. Keet and Sumar were moved at the same time.

For background, Keto was born at SeaWorld Orlando in June 1995, shipped to SeaWorld San Diego in June 1999, then to Ohio in 2000, then on to SeaWorld San Antonio in February 2001, and finally to Loro Parque in the Canary Island in February 2006. It was at Loro Parque that Keto killed trainer Alexis Martinez in 2009.

It’s impossible to imagine what must go on in the mind of an orca, a creature of the sea that is already in the alien world of humans, as it is slinged, crated, trucked, and flown to a new marine park pool. According to Keto’s profile, he struggled to acclimate at Sea World San Diego and showed aggressive tendencies towards trainers, so very little waterwork, and no show waterwork, was done with him there. When he was moved to SeaWorld Ohio, it took him longer than Keet and Sumar to acclimate and respond to trainers, but he did eventually become a reliable waterwork animal. And by the time he was sent to SeaWorld San Antonio he seemed to have the transfer routine down, acclimating quickly and doing show waterwork within two months of arrival.

Here’s the SeaWorld San Diego end of the Ohio move.

The crane arrives…

Lifting high in the sling…

Toward the transport container…

In the transport container…

Sumar and Keto ready for trucking…

And here is a video which shows Keto landing in the Canary Islands, and arriving at Loro Parque: