SeaWorld Bloodbath as Orca Turn On Each Other After Nakai Death

An orca at SeaWorld San Diego has been filmed attacking its tankmate just one day after the death of another resident orca, Nakai. An eyewitness captured footage in one of the park's pools while visiting the attraction with their two children.

SeaWorld said that the video, shared by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), was "misleading and mischaracterized."

Controversy around orca in captivity was highlighted in the film Blackfish in 2013. The documentary followed a string of deaths at SeaWorld, including two trainers. Blackfish filmmakers suggested that orca suffer psychological damage and become more aggressive as a result of captivity.

In the latest footage, shared by PETA—which has long called for the release of captive killer whales—one orca appears to be beaching itself on a ledge while another charges at it from underneath. There appears to be blood in the water towards the end of the video.

A child can be heard saying: "How is it still alive?... I thought they would help each other, not fight each other."

The eyewitness told PETA: "We all immediately saw blood soaking the water, which triggered my 9-year-old daughter to start crying. We would see bite marks and fresh wounds all over the side of the whale. Every couple seconds, two [or] more orcas would jump out of the water to [continue] attacking the hurt orca."

In a statement emailed to Newsweek, SeaWorld said: "The video released by PETA is misleading and mischaracterized. In fact, it shows common orca behaviors exhibited by both wild populations and those in human care as part of natural social interactions.  During the interaction, one of the orcas sustained some minor and superficial abrasions that pose no serious health risk.

"Numerous scientific papers have been published about these behaviors among wild orcas. The papers include documented physical evidence in orcas that resulted from these same types of interactions in the open ocean."

The spokesperson provided two journal articles showing the scientific evidence, including one published in the journal Marine Mammal Science, and another in Aquatic Mammals. Both papers examine "rake markings," where an orca has run its teeth along another.

Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute and an orca expert, told Newsweek that it appears one orca is being aggressive toward another "who is not returning the aggression."

Rose suspects that the whale on the platform is an orca called Corky and that the orca in the water is Kalia, a younger animal. However, she cannot be certain, given the distance in the video.

"In the wild, an older female would never be treated this way by any other animal," Rose said. "Older females are dominant and lead the group. This aggressive interaction between an older female and a younger animal in captivity is thus unnatural. In addition, while beaching oneself is not entirely unnatural in orcas, it is only done in some populations as a foraging technique, where an orca briefly strands to pull a seal or sea lion pup off the beach."

Rose continued, "In captivity, it is seen when the subordinate whale or dolphin does the only thing she can to escape aggression—beach herself on the slide-out.... In the wild, a subordinate whale can simply swim away to escape aggression. In captivity, this kind of aggressive interaction can, unfortunately, escalate way behind the level it would in the wild as a result of there being nowhere to run."

Rose said she is not sure why the orca are behaving in this way. But it is "most certainly" an act of aggression and not natural behavior, she noted.

"As for Nakai...I simply can't say if these were connected elements in what happened here," Rose said. "Corky is not related to any other whale in the San Diego enclosure. If the other whale is Kalia, she was Nakai's half-sister—they have the same mother. I will say that this kind of aggression in SeaWorld tanks is actually more common than SeaWorld lets on or tourist cameras capture."

A photo shows a killer whale performing at a show at Sea World San Diego in 1989. The park no longer puts on theatrical shows. Paul Harris/Getty

PETA has called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate the most recent incident, saying it would like the USDA to "investigate SeaWorld San Diego for apparently housing incompatible animals together, which likely led to an orca getting attacked and potentially sustaining serious injuries."

"Because bullying among orcas can be difficult to resolve once it starts, we also called for the immediate separation of this orca to an adequately sized tank," PETA said in a statement.

Nakai Attacked by Fellow Orca Before Death

Nakai, a 20-year-old orca, had died at the park just a day before this footage was taken, having suffered from an infection. In a statement, SeaWorld said "every attempt was made to save his life," but "aggressive therapeutic and diagnostic efforts were unsuccessful."

Nakai was involved in a similar incident just last year. According to PETA, he was being kept in a tank with other orca that he was not compatible with. Two orca attacked him and he suffered an injury to his jaw and sustained puncture marks.

Nakai was the second orca at the park to die in a year. Another 6-year-old orca called Amaya died last August, according to the Los Angeles Times. A 42-year-old female called Kasatka died from a lung disease in 2017.

Nakai's death leaves 8 remaining orca at SeaWorld San Diego.

Sea World orca used to perform in theatrical shows but this ended in 2017. Visitors can still sea the orca perform in a daily Orca Encounter presentation. The amusement park is not allowed to obtain anymore orca following the deaths due to a breeding ban put in place in 2016.

Update 8/10/22, 9:49 a.m. ET: This story was updated to include comments from marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose.

Update 8/11/22 3.25 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to include a statement from SeaWorld and journal articles provided by the park.