Video Shows SeaWorld Orca Covered In Bite Marks
SeaWorld's orcas are still getting beat up.
Earlier this week, The Dodo reported that a young orca named Sakari had been injured in a fight with another orca at SeaWorld San Antonio, leaving her with a bleeding gash on her chin. Now, a new video shows that the violence is just as rampant at the company's California location.
A video taken last week at SeaWorld San Diego shows an orca, believed to be 14-year-old Nakai, with severe rake marks caused by other orcas' teeth running the length of his body.
"[The video] doesn't even give it justice, for how deep and long some of those gashes were," Chelsy Sutton, the college student who recorded the video, told The Dodo. "I've seen some pretty bad rake marks ... [but] it was literally from his rostrum [nose] to the tip of his tail fluke."
"It was bad," she said. "I'm not a marine biologist, but those marks, those were different whales. It looked like he was tag teamed."
While SeaWorld announced last month that it would stop breeding its orcas - a welcome move that could mean an eventual end to orcas in captivity in the U.S. - the decision raised questions about what would happen to the park's current generation of orcas, who could be living in their tanks for decades to come despite ongoing concerns about welfare and violence issues.
In-fighting is a particular problem, as SeaWorld's orcas are much more crowded than they would be in the wild, leading whales to attack each other due to stress from captivity - and preventing bullied whales from escaping their attackers.
Dr. Heather Rally, a marine veterinarian currently currently affiliated with PETA, has previously reported seeing orcas at the San Antonio and Orlando parks with an "alarming" number of rake marks. One former diver told The Dodo last year that she would routinely find strips of skin the orcas had ripped off each other at the bottom of the tanks.
And the violence can go far beyond bite marks. Nakai was also previously injured 2012 when a large portion of his chin was ripped off in a fight with another whale. In 1989, a female named Kandu died when she broke her jaw during a fight, severing an artery and filling the tank with blood in front of her young calf.
"This level of aggressive interaction's never been observed in the wild," Dr. Naomi Rose, Ph.D., an orca expert with the Animal Welfare Institute who studies wild cetaceans, told The Dodo last year about the violence seen in SeaWorld's captive orca population.
Yet Sutton said that, when an audience member asked a nearby trainer about the marks, he downplayed the incident as normal and said that Nakai's mother, Kastaka, had done it to keep him in check.
SeaWorld also told The Dodo that intraspecies violence, like the teeth marks on Nakai's skin, is a normal part of orca behavior.
"Just as with killer whales or orcas in the wild, our whales grow and learn through play behaviors and interactions with other members of their pod," Aimée Jeansonne Becka, SeaWorld's senior director of corporate communications, said of the video. "It is normal activity found in all healthy wild and zoological social groups. Scrapes, rakes and other superficial abrasions are all part of normal killer whale activity."
Of course, the violence at SeaWorld extends beyond superficial abrasions. And it's unlikely to stop unless the orcas finally get the space they need to swim free.