Sea World will probably attempt to replace Kandu, the killer whale that bled to death Monday, but park executives are undecided on where to obtain the new animal, Sea World's chief veterinarian said Wednesday.
"There hasn't been any specific communication to me, but I have no doubt that some planning is being done," Jim McBain said.
The six Sea Worlds and theme parks owned by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich have 16 whales, but it is not known whether an adult whale will be transferred from another park for permanent display in San Diego. The local attraction still has Baby Shamu, Kandu's 11-month-old female offspring, and two adult females, Corky, who came from Marineland, and Knootka, who is on loan from a marine park in Canada.
If Sea World were to attempt to capture a whale in the wild, it would have to obtain a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Ann Terbush, chief of the service's permit division in Washington, said park officials have no permit applications pending with her office.
Public Relations Disaster
Sea World's attempts to capture 100 killer whales off the Alaskan coast resulted in a public relations disaster in 1985. A federal judge voided a five-year permit issued by the fisheries service for the capture of the whales in a lawsuit brought against the San Diego park by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and several Alaskan fishermen.
According to a plan submitted by Sea World to the fisheries service, the park was going to corral and detain 90 whales in the wild for scientific study. Ten more were to be captured and placed at Sea World's parks in San Diego, Ohio and Florida so they could be displayed, bred and trained to perform. In 1984, Alaskan officials and an angry response from the public also stopped Sea World from conducting a roundup.
In the past, Sea World officials have argued that the trademark killer whale shows and the giant sea mammals are essential to the park's economic survival. Shortly after the federal court stopped Sea World from rounding up the 100 whales, former park president David M. Demotte defended the company's right to acquire new whales.
"If those animals were no longer available, it would detract from Sea World's shows and hurt attendance. They have to try and get new killer whales," DeMotte said.
Kandu, who was believed to be 14 years old and weighed 4,600 pounds, bled to death Monday after a confrontation with Corky, who is in her mid to late 20s and weighs 7,000 pounds. Kandu's upper jaw was broken when she charged into Corky with her mouth open. The impact caused fatal hemorrhaging of major arteries in the whale's nasal passages.
Terbush said federal regulators will continue to monitor the situation at Sea World.
The Marine Fisheries Service reviews deaths that occur among mammals in aquatic theme parks in the United States.
"But there isn't an investigation process that we would routinely undertake," Terbush said. "We'll collect as much information as possible and draw any conclusions about this situation."
Meanwhile, McBain said that Baby Shamu is doing well under the circumstances and is "starting a more distinct return to more normal activity." According to McBain, the young whale is eating well and "progressing ahead of schedule."
Before Kandu's death, Baby Shamu was "becoming very independent," and it is doubtful that she will accept Corky as a surrogate mother, McBain said. Baby Shamu has been spending nights with Corky.
"Based on my observations, Corky is a familiar animal, and that gives Baby Shamu a form of security," he said.
The young whale is kept away from Knootka because the two have never been together. Unlike Corky, whose six offspring were either stillborn or died soon after birth, Knootka has never given birth, McBain said, and is unfamiliar with baby whales.
"We made a conscious decision not to risk having Knootka with Baby Shamu because she had no experience with newborns. . . . She is essentially isolated from Baby Shamu," McBain said.
With Baby Shamu suddenly left an orphan, Sea World officials are charting new waters, McBain said. This is the first time that park officials have faced the prospect of raising an orphaned calf that was born in captivity. Orky, who sired Baby Shamu, died in September, three days after the young whale was born.
Marine biologists who study killer whales in the wild believe that Corky will probably begin to fill the role left empty by Kandu's death. "In their social structure, like ours, an 'aunt' typically would care for the calf," according to Marylin Dahlheim, a marine biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service's marine mammal laboratory in Seattle.
As for surviving in the wild, all calves, including those who are not orphaned, face an uncertain future, she said. "The first year for any animal is critical, and the chances of surviving without mom" compound the problems, Dahlheim said.
Whales or dolphins "show no remorse or concern" when a member of their pod passes away, according to Sonny Allen, trainer of marine mammals at Marine World in Vallejo, which has two killer whales. "The only complication you might run into with a calf is if it is still nursing and you have to start bottle feeding," Allen said.
"The important thing is that there's something to step in to take up the void," Allen said. "Sea World does very well as far as hands-on types of things, like interacting with the whales."
Researchers believe that, in the wild, female whales often try to steal another whale's calves, Allen said. "It's called calf-stealing, because one non-lactating female will try to steal away the calf from its real mother."
Calf-stealing does generate social friction among whales, Allen said, and often results in "posturing," where one whale will attempt to dissuade another by "raking" it with its teeth, or butting it with its head.
Sea World has downplayed the possibility that Kandu might have been protecting her young offspring or acting out of jealousy when she attacked Corky. Instead, McBain called the confrontation "normal behavior" that resulted from Kandu's attempt to establish her dominance over Corky.
Sea World executives could not be reached for comment about the firm's advertising campaign, which now features Kandu and Baby Shamu.