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Orca at SeaWorld Missing Half His Chin

Photo by Ingrid Visser.

Why is Nakai, one of the orcas at SeaWorld San Diego, swimming around the tank with half his chin missing? SeaWorld delayed acknowledging that anything had even happened until photos and video began to surface last week.

On September 20th, the killer whale was found with a huge wound in his lower jaw. A whole chunk of chin had been sheared off and was found lying at the bottom of the pool. There are two possibilities: one is that it happened when Nakai was bitten after getting into a stress fight with two other orcas during a private show for a corporate group. The other is that he smashed into the side of the pool – or something on the side – and the object sheared off this enormous piece of flesh.

What is known is that during the show, Nakai and two other orcas suddenly stopped performing their routine and started fighting. Nakai then swam to the back pool while the other two, Ike and Keet, went back to their performance. But when trainers later saw Nakai close up during feeding time, they saw this huge wound, open right down to the bone.

SeaWorld later issued a statement saying that all was basically well. As reported in the San Diego Union Tribune:

The injury to Nakai, an 11-year-old whale, is believed to have occurred when he came into contact with a portion of the pool on Sept. 20, said Sea World spokesman Dave Koontz.

The whale was treated by veterinarians. Park officials did not disclose details of the injury.

“Nakai is currently receiving antibiotics and the veterinarians are pleased with the healing progress of his wound,” Koontz said. Nakai is “swimming comfortably and interacting with other killer whales” at the park, Koontz said.

In fact, there hasn’t been any healing progress yet. Nobody knows how to treat such an injury.

Author and journalist Tim Zimmerman writes:

Knowing that the chunk of Nakai’s chin that was sheared off was retrieved from the bottom of the pool, I wondered whether there might be some way to try and reattach it, or graft it back on. I was told, by someone who knows, that it is very difficult to sew or staple killer whale parts back on due to the force of water constantly rushing past the skin. Apparently, something like that was tried (and failed) with Splash after he injured his jaw.

To try to stave off an infection, veterinarians are daubing the wound with honey, a natural antibiotic, as well as using regular antibiotics.

Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust visited SeaWorld last week and told Zimmerman what the photo above seemed to indicate:

“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.”

Whatever the exact cause of Nakai’s injury, one thing is for sure: things like this don’t happen to orcas in the wild. Their whole social structure and culture is geared to avoiding fights that result in serious injury. Incidents like this one, where orcas or their human captors get hurt, only happen in the confines of a marine zoo or circus.

It’s time to bring an end to these Coliseum-style shows.