The captivity debate has been heating up this week with the surfacing of some grisly photos. Nakai, an 11 year old male orca at SeaWorld San Diego, was rumored to have been severely injured based on a small, recent photo of him discovered on photobucket. The injury was mentioned by journalist Tim Zimmerman who said that the photo showed a severe wound. However, the claims could not be confirmed as the photo was quickly taken off of the website.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) jumped into action, obtaining and releasing photos of Nakai late last week (09/27/12) which confirmed the worst: There was a gaping wound in Nakai’s lower jaw, the flesh ripped down to the bone. PETA also gathered anonymous whistleblower accounts which said “the flesh cut from him was big enough and intact enough for SeaWorld to retrieve it from the bottom of the pool”, and the injury was a result of “a major altercation” between Nakai and two other male orcas: Ikaika and Keet. This account was expanded upon by another whistleblower who said that Nakai was injured when he attempted to flee the altercation by jumping over chains SeaWorld had put in the tank. PETA filed a complaint to the US Agricultural Department and today is planning to protest SeaWorld’s management policies, asserting that they are in violation of the Animal Welfare Act by housing incompatible animals together.
Park officials confirmed that Nakai’s injury was a week old in the released photos, and had happened during a night show. SeaWorld San Diego spokesman Dave Koontz responded to the photos by vaguely stating that Nakai’s injury occurred when he “came into contact with a portion of the pool.” SeaWorld has also stated that Nakai has been swimming and eating comfortably and his injury is healing well, according to park veterinarians.
Captivity supporters rose to SeaWorld’s defense, immediately denying the claim that the injury was caused by an orca fight, and blaming OSHA under the misconception that the laceration occurred due to the metal bars which the government required.
“Some stupid PETA members say it was an attack from another orca and its ‘proof’ they dont get along in captivity. theyre so stupid! they take every chance they get to dish on seaworld. It’s not seaworld’s fault, its OSHA’s.” [sic] – Anonymous
This of course goes against logic. SeaWorld has been using the metal bars long before the OSHA investigation and we have seen injuries they’ve caused on Ikaika and Tekoa. The studs on the safety bars are only about 1-2” tall and are not capable of causing a large, 6” deep laceration in the case of Nakai. Captivity supporters have attempted to downplay the notion that the injury was a result of a fight by claiming that orcas “kill each other” in the wild, or are injured to the same extent in their natural social orders. SeaWorld reviewed the show footage and has announced that Nakai was not found anywhere near the metal safety bars required by OSHA.
The cause of the injury has remained mysterious but veterinarians and other experts have weighed in their opinions based on analysis of the photos. “Dr. Nancy Anderson, a veterinarian with the University of California Davis Wildlife Center and a former veterinarian at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, said the injury did not have the characteristics of a wound caused by another orca.” – Digital Journal Dr. Ingrid Visser of Orca Research Trust, one of the world’s leading experts on orcas, agreed saying that the injury was likely caused by a “metal plate or wire”. Visser obtained clear photographs of Nakai early this week which showed clear puncture wounds on the lower left hand side of the injury. This prompted a re-evaluation by experts who began to lean toward the notion that the injury was at least partially a result of orca aggression due to the appearance of puncture wounds which could’ve been caused by orca teeth. An expert’s assessment of the new photos states: “based on what I’m seeing from this image, the tissues look like they’re necrotizing. All of that blackness seems to me to indicate dying flesh…” The biggest concern right now is infection, and while the cause remains unknown, SeaWorld is going to be responsible whether the injury came about in a fight or due to a dangerous item in the environment.
This incident has sparked debate, not just amongst pro and anti-captivity activists but also amongst the public. Nakai was featured on multiple news stations including “Good Morning America,” along with MSNBC and the front page of Yahoo!News.