Killer Whale Born at SeaWorld San Diego Dies of Infection

by Lauren Boisvert

In unfortunate news out of California, an orca whale who lived for over 20 years died recently at SeaWorld San Diego. The park revealed the tragic news on Friday. Nakai was 21 years old, having been born in the park in September 2001. The orca died of an infection and was described in life as “friendly and playful,” according to a statement from the park on Facebook.

“[Nakai will] be remembered as a curious and quick learner, often picking up behaviors just by observing the other whales in his pod,” the park wrote. “Because of these natural abilities, Nakai participated in hearing studies to help scientists better understand the impact on orcas of noise from ships and other human activity. His contributions to helping improve the health and survival of whales in the wild cannot be underestimated and will never be forgotten.”

SeaWorld Trainer Speaks About Working With Nakai, Who Died on Thursday

One member of Nakai’s team spoke about working with the orca, mentioning the bond they shared with the whale. “I have been professionally and personally invested in the welfare of Nakai since he was born in our park, and the bond we shared was very strong,” they said. “He was very friendly and an overall playful guy who loved to interact with people. It was a joy to care for and learn from him and I will miss him greatly. He was a huge part of my life and of our family here at SeaWorld San Diego. We appreciate the support of the community as we grieve his loss together with his loyal fans everywhere.”

According to KCRA out of Sacramento, there are now eight orcas remaining at SeaWorld San Diego. Additionally, Nakai is the second whale to die in San Diego within a year. Last year, 6-year-old Amaya died in August due to a sudden illness. 40-year-old Kasatka, the matriarch of the San Diego pod, died in 2017 after a bout of pneumonia.

Why the Parks No Longer Breed Whales, and Why That’s a Step in the Right Direction

In March 2016, SeaWorld announced that it would no longer breed whales. The public outcry for the end of the breeding program became heightened after the documentary “Blackfish” came out in 2013, which told the story of the whale Tilikum and the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau.

There were many other videos that surfaced of attacks by the captive whales, including Kasatka dragging trainer Ken Peters to the bottom of the pool multiple times in 2006. PETA also became heavily involved in protesting the breeding program. SeaWorld parks will now keep the whales in captivity until they die. Which could be a long, long time from now for some. But, whales in captivity are more susceptible to disease and attacks from other captive whales, as well as self-inflicted harm. These are not familial pods, but a corporate collection of whales forced to live together. They don’t have the same dialects, temperaments, or generational ties that wild orcas have.