Is West Nile found in SeaWorld’s orcas, as well as those in the wild?

The fact is that the West Nile, and other mosquito-transmitted viruses, have been found in wild cetaceans. SeaWorld has been a leader for more than 50 years in the conservation of these animals, including the peer-reviewed publication to help researchers betters understand the impact illnesses like West Nile on cetaceans (St. Leger, J., Wu, G., Anderson, M., Dalton, L., Nilson, E. and Wang, D. 2011. West Nile virus infection in killer whale, Texas, USA, 2007. Emerging Infectious Diseases 17(8): 1531-1533.).  In fact, learning that cetaceans, both at SeaWorld and in the wild, can be infected with illnesses like encephalitis has helped researchers to better understand, and ultimately to better protect, these animals. 
 
Learn more.

 

Thanks for the questions from today’s shareholders meeting. Here are the answers to your questions:

Shape and size of dorsal fins:
The facts are that the shape of an orca’s dorsal fin is not an indicator of the animal’s overall health, and bent or “collapsed” dorsal fins are seen in both wild killer whales, as well as those at SeaWorld. Chief Zoological Officer Dr. Christopher Dold explains more in this video:

 


West Nile in SeaWorld’s orcas, as well as those in the wild:
The fact is that the West Nile, and other mosquito-transmitted viruses, have been found in wild cetaceans. SeaWorld has been a leader for more than 50 years in the conservation of these animals, including the peer-reviewed publication to help researchers betters understand the impact illnesses like West Nile on cetaceans (St. Leger, J., Wu, G., Anderson, M., Dalton, L., Nilson, E. and Wang, D. 2011. West Nile virus infection in killer whale, Texas, USA, 2007. Emerging Infectious Diseases 17(8): 1531-1533.).  In fact, learning that cetaceans, both at SeaWorld and in the wild, can be infected with illnesses like encephalitis has helped researchers to better understand, and ultimately to better protect, these animals. 

Learn more.

 

What was SeaWorld's recent killer whale announcement about?

In March 2016, SeaWorld made a historic announcement, including ending orca breeding at its parks, introducing new, inspiring and natural orca encounters, and launching new partnerships to protect oceans and marine animals.

Click here to learn more about what these announcements mean.

"Are the whales allowed to be with mom and nurse till they wean themselves or is there an age you wean them from mom"

Most killer whale or orca calves born at SeaWorld generally nurse for about a year, but may continue to nurse occasionally for as long as two years. This corresponds with observations in the wild. Orca calves observed at SeaWorld began nursing several hours after birth. SeaWorld understands the importance of keeping mothers and their dependent calves together - mothers provide support and nutrition, and we would not interfere with that unless the mother or calf’s life was in danger. First successful nursing attempts ranged from 1.8 to 29.3 hours after birth. Calves nurse below water but close to the surface and do so when the mother glides in a horizontal position with her tail arched, while the calf swims on its side with its mouth on the right or left mammary gland. Calves nurse for about 5 to 10 seconds at a time, several times an hour, 24 hours a day. Nursing frequency peaks the first day or two following birth, at about 45 minutes total average nursing time. As a calf becomes more adept at nursing and obtains more milk at each feeding, nursing time decreases dramatically to 10 minutes per day or less after three weeks and to 5 minutes or less by 2 months. At SeaWorld, it’s possible that first-time mothers may learn how to nurse their young by observing this behavior in other mother whales. Additionally, trainers teach them how to respond when their calf attempts to nurse.

What is Candida?

Candida is an organism that is found in many different animals, including whales and dolphins, both in human care and in the wild. In this case, the strain was resistant to commonly used medications, making it more difficult to effectively treat. To provide the best medical treatment for Unna, SeaWorld animal care and veterinary teams consulted with external experts, including nephrologists and fungal experts.

Click here to learn more about Unna’s care.

We saw that SeaWorld San Antonio had three whales die in six months. Is something wrong with the animals or the care they are receiving?

We were all saddened by these deaths, especially the animal care team that spent countless hours caring for these animals. After a review of each of these cases, none of the issues were related to each other, or to the care that the animals received, which is the care that SeaWorld is world-renowned for. SeaWorld is regulated by several federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). We’re also accredited by several organizations, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA). We have the highest standard of care for all animals at our parks. You can read about that care here:How does SeaWorld care for their killer whales?. And take a look at what it takes to be a SeaWorld Veterinarian here: What does it take to be a veterinarian at SeaWorld?  

Click here to learn more about Unna’s care.

How do the orcas cope when they lose their parents?

SeaWorld’s animal care staff has a close relationship with all of the animals in our care, and the loss of one of those animals is always a very difficult time. However, killer whales, like most animals, adapt fairly quickly if not immediately to the loss of an animal in their group, including parents. Click here to learn more about Unna’s care.

Activists claim that Unna’s immune system was compromised from stress, making her more susceptible to infections and ultimately causing her death. How do you respond to that?

The cause of death has not been determined. We have no evidence that Unna was stressed from her environment. A full post mortem examination, including comprehensive laboratory testing and histopathologic review, will be performed to determine the ultimate cause of death. Click here to learn more about Unna’s care.