Orca In SeaWorld Is “Too Depressed To Nurse Her Calf,” Experts Say

A mother orca at SeaWorld San Diego is "so depressed, [she’s] incapable of taking care of her calf."


Earlier this month, the California Coastal Commission voted to ban orca breeding at SeaWorld San Diego after the ocean park submitted plans requesting an expansion of its killer whale tank. Their plans to expand were approved, but “with conditions.” The news was received in joyous spirit by animal rights activists, who have long proclaimed orcas belong in the ocean – not in captivity.

One of the commissioners even stated that “Orcas don’t belong in captivity,” but the wild. After the release of the controversial documentary Blackfish and the sighting of a 103-year-old orca named Granny in the wild, a majority of the public now agrees.

While the company’s profits are plummeting and an increasing amount of activists are boycotting and speaking out against the marine park, it is not yet enough.

According to marine biologist Ingrid Visser and former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove, orcas in captivity at SeaWorld are still suffering. When the pair visited the San Diego SeaWorld park accompanied by the film crew of “Superpod,” an upcoming orca documentary project, they captured some disheartening footage, reports Huff Post. 

When they reviewed the video of a mother orca named Kasatka and her 2-year-old calf named Makani, they saw that the baby kept bumping into its mother’s belly. This head-bumping, according to Hargrove, is a “precursor to nursing.”

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That behavior would be considered normal if it weren’t for the bruises on Kasatka’s belly from Makani’s persistent bumping. She, unfortunately, was ignoring her calf’s attempt to nurse. 

“That’s just because the calf is constantly trying to get food, so desperately hungry, so bored,” she said. “It’s a stereotypic behavior now.”

Naomi Rose, a leading orca researcher at the Animal Welfare Institute, reviewed the footage and agreed that Kasatka was behaving abnormally. 

She told The Dodo: 

“If I saw a calf head-bumping its mother over and over and nothing coming of it (no nursing observed), then I would definitely consider that abnormal. Normally when a calf solicits nursing that way, the mother nurses!”

The calf is probably not getting the milk it needs, she said. This, according to the experts, is a side effect of Kasatka being too depressed to nurse. 

Kasatka is “so depressed, [she’s] incapable of taking care of her calf,” said Hargrove, who worked as a senior orca trainer at SeaWorld for years before becoming an anti-captivity advocate. 

SeaWorld denies there is a problem, and said in a rebuttal:

Makani ‘bumping’ Kasatka is a commonly observed bonding behavior, and there is no bruising present. [Visser and Hargrove] have confused a fully weaned killer whale with a nursing baby. Makani is fully weaned and eats about 65 pounds of fish a day.” (Read SeaWorld’s entire statement here.)

SeaWorld denying accusations is nothing new. Why, it even self-funded its own study to prove orca longevity. But, when you take a look at the footage, it’s hard not to cringe and/or imagine what the mother orca is experiencing. To restrict a highly intelligent being into the space of a ‘box’ when it could swim thousands of miles – as well as deprive it of social interaction and community – is inhumane.

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