SeaWorld Orca Spotted With Horrific Injury To Fin

SeaWorld says it "doesn't know" what happened to her.

Katina, a captive orca living at SeaWorld Orlando, was recently photographed with a horrific-looking injury — the backside of her dorsal fin has been cut open and bears a long, deep gash.

On Saturday, photographer Heather Murphy entered SeaWorld Orlando after hearing rumors about Katina’s injury. Katina is not currently performing in shows, but she’s still being kept in a tank within public view, and Murphy was able to capture several photos of Katina’s injury with a zoom lens.

Captive orca with severe injury in dorsal fin
Katina's injury on her dorsal fin | Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

“It’s horrific,” Murphy, founder of Ocean Advocate News, told The Dodo. “I can’t imagine the pain she must have been through.”

When The Dodo contacted SeaWorld Orlando about Katina’s injury, a spokesperson for the park referred to a recent blog post — in it, the park claims not to know how Katina got hurt, but mentions that she’d been interacting with other orcas, including a 12-year-old male named Trua. The injury actually occurred on March 17, but SeaWorld waited for two weeks to announce it.

Captive orca inside tank at SeaWorld
Katina inside her tank at SeaWorld Orlando | Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

However, Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), doesn’t understand how SeaWorld Orlando wouldn’t know the exact nature of Katina’s wound.

“The fact that they claim they don’t know is pretty mind-boggling,” Rose told The Dodo. “They’re supposedly the ones who know everything about these animals daily, and they spend more time with them than they do with their own children. And there’s cameras everywhere, so how is it that they don’t know what happens to them here?”

Two orcas inside tank
Katina and another orca inside their tank at SeaWorld | Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

Even though SeaWorld Orlando won’t provide an exact reason for Katina’s injury, the park insinuates that it may have been caused by Katina’s tankmates’ aggressive behavior. The park also suggests that this kind of behavior is “natural,” and that Katina’s injury would have also occurred in the wild.

“This is a common occurrence among wild killer whale pods, as well as those at SeaWorld,” a spokesperson for the park wrote in the blog. “Killer whales are a social and hierarchal [sic] species, so interacting with other members of the pod, even in an aggressive or antagonistic manner, is a natural behavior we’d expect to see.”

Woman tending to injured orca
The photo SeaWorld posted in its blog entry about Katina's injury | Facebook/SeaWorld

Yet Rose disagrees, arguing that she’s never seen an injury like Katina’s amongst wild orcas.

“SeaWorld’s insistence that it’s a natural behavior is false because I’ve never seen anything like this,” Rose said. “You can look through photos or the catalogues of populations all over the world … and you will not see an injury like that. There are other kinds of injuries that they inflict upon each other, but I’ve never seen the trailing edge of the dorsal fin at the base sliced like that, as if a machete hacked at it. It looks like a sharp edge.”

View of captive orca's injured fin
A sideways view of Katina's injury | Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

Violence among SeaWorld’s animals wouldn’t be anything new. Former employees have witnessed extreme aggression between SeaWorld’s orcas, including ripping strips of skin off each other with their teeth. Countless orcas have been spotted with bite marks or bleeding from other injuries. In 2016, a young orca at Spain’s Loro Parque was filmed repeatedly pulling herself out of her tank to escape bullying by her SeaWorld-born tankmates. Still others have injured themselves trying to escape the aggression.

While it’s possible that Katina’s injury was caused by running into a gate or a protrusion in the tank, Rose said, she won’t disregard the possibility that another orca directly caused this injury — although she finds this possibility “very disturbing.”

Captive orca inside tank
Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

“For them to inflict that kind of injury, it would have had to have been on the level of killing,” Rose said. “Because that’s how they would injure an animal they were going to kill and eat in the wild.”

Heather Rally, a marine mammal veterinarian who currently works with the PETA Foundation, also disagrees that wild orcas would inflict this kind of injury to each other. Katina currently shares a small tank with several other orcas, including two of her own offspring, and this would be incredibly stressful for all of the animals, she explained.

Captive orca with injured dorsal fin
Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

“SeaWorld conveniently claims to keep orcas in cohesive family pods, but in reality, this matriarch orca is held in a tiny concrete tank with five other orcas — only three of whom are related to her — and suffered immensely when a large chunk of her dorsal fin was ripped out,” Rally told The Dodo. “While aggression is rarely seen among family units in the wild, traumatic wounds such as Katina's are an all-too-common consequence when complex wild animals are forced to live in unnatural, incompatible groups inside small tanks.”

Captive orca with collapsed dorsal fin
Katina performing at SeaWorld before the injury — she's had a collapsed dorsal fin for many years | Facebook/Katina Orca

Besides the gash, Katina has a collapsed dorsal fin, which is something that frequently happens to captive orcas as a result of poor health and stress. And Katina, who is about 42 years old, has plenty of reasons to be stressed out.

In 1972, Katina was captured from the ocean off the coast of Iceland, and since then, she’s been living in tiny, shallow tanks at SeaWorld Orlando, where she’s forced to perform in shows for human entertainment. She’s had seven calves in captivity, including Kalina, who was the original baby Shamu. Katina was even bred with her own son, Taku, to produce Nalani — something that’s “taboo” in wild orca populations.

Captive orca's collapsed fin
Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

In the wild, female orcas can live up to 100 years, but they have much shorter lives in captivity — many die when they’re only in their 20s. While Katina has lived much longer than other captive orcas, Rally fears for her future well-being, and believes that she should be moved to an ocean sanctuary.

“Her life depends on whether or not this serious wound heals,” Rally said. “[We are] once again calling on SeaWorld to send the orcas to seaside sanctuaries, where they may live safer, more natural lives,” Rally said.

To help get Katina to a seaside sanctuary, you can make a donation to the Whale Sanctuary Project, which is working to open a sanctuary where SeaWorld's orcas could one day retire.