People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (APHIS) to launch an investigation into a gruesome injury received by one of SeaWorld's orcas.
Nakai, an 11-year-old orca at SeaWorld San Diego, had his lower jaw sheared off to the bone. The horrific injury was first revealed by Tim Zimmermann, a Washington-DC based writer and Correspondent with Outdoor magazine. After receiving an inside tip, the writer said:
We’ve just heard a rumour that Nakai (male, captive born at SeaWorld 1 Sept 2011 – mother Kasatka, father Tilikum by AI), currently held at San Diego SeaWorld, today hurt himself badly on his lower jaw.
As more details were revealed throughout the day, Zimmermann posted that the injury occurred during a night show on Sept. 20 and a possible altercation between Nakai and two other resident SeaWorld orcas: Keet and Ikaika. The injury was so severe the writer said, the piece sheared off:
Was big enough and intact enough for SeaWorld to retrieve it from the bottom of the pool.
The subsequently released photographs captured from video and taken by a park visitor, were shocking.
Yet SeaWorld, Zimmermann said, failed to immediately notice the injury:
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.
SeaWorld has yet to explain how the injury happened saying only in a statement released to the media:
"Nakai is currently receiving antibiotics and the veterinarians are pleased with the healing progress of his wound, [and Nakai] swimming comfortably and interacting with other killer whales."
According to Fox8 News, Sea World officials told them they believed "the whale may have hurt himself by bumping into a barrier at the pool." But other experts disagree, saying the wound is too smooth to have been caused by a barrier.
Deborah Giles, who studies killer whales at the UC Davis Dept. of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology believes the injury may have been caused by "something metal." Ingrid Visser, a leading orca researcher from New Zealand agreed, telling U-T San Diego, the injury may have been "caused by something like a metal plate or a wire." Visser also added that she believed the injury "is more serious than Sea World officials have stated."
Zimmermann agrees. "It’s hard to look at that wound and be confident that all is as well as Koontz [Dave Koontz, SeaWorld Public Relations] suggests," he wrote. And PETA, who is claiming that SeaWorld has violated the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), is calling for an investigation into the incident.
CodeOrca, a website maintained by Christina, who has a background in veterinary medicine, also believes that Nakai's injury poses several potential problems for the orca. "The location of the injury does give me some concern that the masseter, the muscle which controls the mandible, may have been damaged. If so," she adds, "this could severely hinder his ability to open and close his jaw properly."
CodeOrca also queried whether the large chunk of muscle missing will ever fully heal. "The skin may granulate over the area, but even that is not a guarantee," it said, adding that Nakai's biggest threat right now is that of infection.
In a statement by PETA's Jeff Mackey, PETA said it has submitted a complaint asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture, APHIS, to take disciplinary action against SeaWorld for housing orcas incompatibly and in direct violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
According to Section 3.101(a) Construction requirements:
Indoor and outdoor housing facilities for marine mammals must be structurally sound and must be maintained in good repair to protect the animals from injury, to contain the animals within the facility, and to restrict the entrance of unwanted animals.
And under 3.109 Separation, the Act states:
Marine mammals that are not compatible must not be housed in the same enclosure. Marine mammals must not be housed near other animals that cause them unreasonable stress or discomfort or interfere with their good health.
"The AWA makes it clear that marine mammals that are not compatible must not be housed in the same enclosure," said PETA, "Yet SeaWorld parks have a long history of housing incompatible orcas from widely divergent groups together in enclosures—and the result has been stress, agitation, aggressive and bloody raking, serious injury, and death."
The injury to Nakai follows another recent injury to Ikaika, a 9-year old male killer whale also housed at SeaWorld San Diego. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), revealed photos of Ike after he had suffered a very long gash under his chin. The injury is believed to have been caused by impact with metal separation bars, WDCS said.
SeaWorld has not yet responded to PETA's filed complaint.