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SeaWorld San Diego loses an orca

Sea World San Diego: Sumar was a 12-year old male. The park cancelled its Shamu shows temporarily.

From Robert Niles
Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:08 PM
Here's the news from the SeaWorld Parks blog.

Sumar was a 12-year-old male killer whale. The park cancelled its "Shamu" shows yesterday.


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Nick Markham
Posted September 8, 2010 at 3:07 PM
That is so sad. I am sure it was just some sort of disability of some sort, as I know Sea World cares a lot for its animals.

From Andy Milio
Posted September 8, 2010 at 3:30 PM
It's so sad to hear this. When I was writing a blog on this subject for my website, I felt like I was going to cry :(

From Bruce Lane
Posted September 8, 2010 at 9:12 PM
Sad indeed. I would be very curious to know what the necropsy turns up.

I can't help but wonder, though, if we're seeing the beginning of the results of inbreeding? 12 years is hardly old for an orca (though it is definitely fully mature).

Consider: The number of SeaWorld's breeding male orcas can, if I recall correctly, be counted on the fingers of one hand. Their female population, with few exceptions, are captive-bred as well.

Couple that with the fact there aren't more than three other facilities in the world who have captive orcas, and likely fewer for males, and the available genetic options become pretty limited after just a couple of generations. Inbreeding, as we've seen in our own species (think back to the noble classes of previous centuries), can cause some pretty nasty congenital issues.

I would be curious to know if SeaWorld's veterinary staff has considered this possibility.

Happier travels.

From Rob P
Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:48 AM
That's a very interesting point Bruce. As you rightly say : there are models already for genetic disorders due to in-breeding.
However I'll be surprised if this hasn't already been considered by Seaworld with their breeding program.
Most Zoological organisations introduce breeding partners garnered from other zoos so that the bloodline is mixed. For example Pandas that are flown from China to mate with another in London or San Diego.
I suppose the logistics of natural breeding of Orcas is prohibitive because of their size. That only leaves artificial insemination. Only an expert would be able to discuss any possible negative effects that might produce.But to a layman I can't think of any.
My money is that this extremely sad event has probably been caused naturally by an infection of some kind.
I await the outcome of the investigation with bated breath and sincerely hope that it has nothing to do with their breeding procedures.
The ramifications of that would be disastrous.

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