SeaWorld Hiding Orca Necropsies, Including San Diego’s Kasatka, Federal Suit Claims

January 11, 2018

What led to Kasatka being euthanized at SeaWorld San Diego? What killed two other orcas — in Orlando and San Antonio?

And why won’t the federal agencies involved with killer whales make the Orlando-based theme park company share its findings?

Those are among the issues being raised in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., by the Animal Welfare Institute, or AWI, also based in the nation’s capital.

Alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, the nonprofit animal-protection group is asking the court to force the National Marine Fisheries Service and its parent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to explain why SeaWorld can withhold the necropsy of Kasatka as well as the cause-of-death reports of Tilikum and his granddaughter Kyara, who also died in 2017.

Moreover, AWI wants to know the legal basis for a reputed change in a public-display permit that once mandated the disclosure of killer whale necropsies.

“After the death of three SeaWorld orcas over a seven-month period,” says the nine-page suit, “NOAA/NMFS has refused to release or disclose the legal rationale for its conclusion that SeaWorld can ignore clearly stated permit requirements and withhold information that would shed light on the cause of death and medical condition of these whales during their lives in captivity and benefit science and marine mammal husbandry, stranding response, and medical care.”

Writing for AWI, attorneys Donald C. Baur and Sunny Tsou said: “SeaWorld refuses to release the whales’ clinical histories or necropsy reports.”

In response to a request for comment, agency spokeswoman Kate Brogan said Thursday: “NOAA Fisheries cannot discuss ongoing litigation.”

SeaWorld San Diego spokesman David Koontz issued this statement:

As required, SeaWorld submits mortality information to appropriate regulatory agencies. Additionally, we share this information with the public, and the zoological community.

Necropsy reports contain complex medical information and analysis, which are best interpreted and used by researchers and trained specialists.

SeaWorld does release specific necropsy findings via peer-reviewed scientific papers where the information is useful to the health and management of both free-ranging animals and those in human care.

Our teams work with a variety of scientists to assure that the data and biomaterials from the animals are available for specific and verified scientific studies that will benefit those species today and in the future.

Those interested in reading more about SeaWorld’s scientific contributions can review the more than 350 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and books our team members have authored at

(In mid-September, Times of San Diego asked SeaWorld San Diego for Kasatka’s necropsy but didn’t receive a response. SeaWorld posted updates here.)

In a press release Wednesday, the AWI said: “The agencies claim that an obligation under pre-1994 public display permits to provide necropsy results and clinical histories (complete veterinary records) is no longer in effect due to 1994 changes in the Marine Mammal Protection Act(MMPA), but have offered no legal justification for the claim.”

A series of FOIA requests for that legal reasoning was ignored, AWI argues in the lawsuit.

“This is an issue of government transparency and sound science,” said Naomi Rose, AWI marine mammal scientist. “We find it disturbing that the agencies have gone to such great lengths to hide their rationale for their legal conclusion.”

Rose, who in 2014 took part in a Voice of San Diego panel discussion on SeaWorld and its killer whales, said the government is allowing SeaWorld to withhold information critical to science.

The AWI release said SeaWorld cited generic lung disease as a cause of death.

“Fatal lung infections are all too common in captive orcas,” AWI said. “A more detailed look at the necropsy results and clinical histories would provide scientists, including those involved in rescuing stranded whales and dolphins, with important information on treatments, diagnoses and prognoses.”

The AWI suit said NOAA/NMFS still hasn’t responded to a Sept. 29, 2017, request for public records, which by law should have come within a month.

“Nor has the agency provided AWI with any explanation for the ongoing delay,” the suit says. “The other agencies have either responded in full … or acknowledged receipt and confirmed that review is underway.”

In March 2017 — two months after “Blackfish” subject Tilikum died in Orlando — NOAA/NMFS said it had concluded that the necropsy and clinical history provisions of Tilikum’s permit had been “extinguished” by 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

But AWI was told that “the legal analysis supporting this determination is exempt from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege,” the suit says.

This was done despite what AWI called “the plain language of the permit.”

AWI says its lawyers have provided legal analysis that the necropsy and clinical history are still required.

The case — 1:18-cv-00047-CKK — has been assigned to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the daughter of an environmental engineer.

Appointed to her current job by President Clinton in 1997, Kollar-Kotelly was presiding judge from 2002 to 2009 of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In one notable case involving the Freedom of Information Act, she ruled in 2008 that the Office of Administration was not subject to FOIA “and therefore did not have to release records regarding missing White House e-mails” of the George W. Bush administration, according to CNN.

“The possibly lost e-mails are from a period in which the United States decided to go to war with Iraq, White House officials leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame and the Justice Department started a criminal investigation into who leaked the information,” CNN recounted.

More recently, Kollar-Kotelly, 74, blocked the Trump Administration’s proposed transgender military ban, writing in a strongly worded opinion that the policy “does not appear to be supported by any facts.”

Source: Times of San


Orca Kasatka Dead at SeaWorld—Condition Called ‘Painful Way to Die’

August 16, 2017

Orca Kasatka is dead at SeaWorld, the third orca and sixth marine mammal to die at one of its parks this year.

According to reports, Kasatka had been suffering from a bacterial lung infection since at least 2008 and her ailing body was covered in lesions before her death. Even though she was sick and on medication, SeaWorld artificially inseminated Kasatka again in 2011 and forced her to bear a fourth calf for the parks to exploit.

Former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove told Dolphin Project, that “[h]istorically, when a necropsy is performed on an animal with this level of fungal infection, the fungal lesions are far worse internally than they are externally. It is also an incredibly painful way to die.”

This June, he told the Times of San Diego that he believed that SeaWorld was likely “doing everything known to science to keep her alive” so that Kasatka would not become the third orca to die at the parks this year. SeaWorld let her suffer until, finally, last night, the company euthanized her. She’s the 41st orca to die on SeaWorld’s watch—and not one died of old age. In death, she’s finally free.

No orca should ever have to live and die in a barren concrete cell for SeaWorld’s profits and humans’ fleeting amusement. Read Kasatka’s sad story below, and demand that SeaWorld release the remaining captive orcas to sea sanctuaries today.

The following was originally published on July 19, 2017:

Kasatka was abducted from her family and robbed of any semblance of a natural life when she was just 1 year old. Since then, she’s been held captive at various SeaWorld parks and, in recent years, has been showing signs of severe illness and infection, a contributing factor in more than half of the orca deaths at SeaWorld’s parks, according to a San Antonio Express-News investigation.

To Read the FULL story visit the source at Sea World of


June 17, 2017

In August 2016, SeaWorld released information that Kasatka, the matriarchal orca at SeaWorld San Diego had been suffering from a bacterial respiratory infection. The park announced that the whale’s chronic health problems were finally taking their toll. Kasatka, they said, was “having a more difficult time fending off the illness,” due to a weakened immune system. Photographs received by the Dolphin Project just yesterday, appear to show the orca could be losing her battle for life.

The photographs, taken by a park visitor who wishes only to be known as Elizabeth, are alarming. They were captured as Kasatka and other orcas were being lined up for the administration of medication. Elizabeth explained:

When Kasatka lifted her head out of the water her lower jaw looked completely disfigured. She appeared extremely lethargic and did not swim around the pool as she normally would. When a trainer asked her to do a behavior for the crowd she did a pathetic attempt at a spy-hop. She seemed barely able to get her head out of the water. When the trainers were through, they dismissed the group of orcas and they all left except for Kasatka who moved only a few feet from the wall and stayed logging in the same spot until I left.

The images of Kasatka appear to show that the orca is suffering from more than a chronic respiratory infection. She could also be battling a fungal infection that has failed to respond to treatment.

Former senior trainer John Hargrove, author of the NY Times best-seller, “Beneath the Surface”, told Dolphin Project that what Kasatka has are not injuries but open sore lesions from a massive fungal infection:

Captive orcas are regularly treated for persistent fungal infections. The severity of this fungal infection demonstrates the diminished capacity of Kasatka’s own immune system. The constant need for massive amounts of antibiotics to keep orcas healthy in captivity decimates their immune system. Sadly, when I look at this photo, all I see is a diseased whale. Historically, when a necropsy is performed on an animal with this level of fungal infection, the fungal lesions are far worse internally than they are externally. It is also an incredibly painful way to die.


We were also curious about the medication being administered. Although not used to treat fungal infections, Hargrove said he’s almost certain that it’s a drug called “Regu-Mate.” As a former senior trainer, Hargrove was trained and authorized to personally administer it to orcas at SeaWorld:

We used it for a trial period at SeaWorld but stopped due to its dangerous side-effects. Regu-Mate is only allowed to be administered by a male trainer wearing latex gloves (as seen in the photo) as it can cause infertility in female trainers.”

He explained that in premenopausal whales it’s used as a form of birth control but in postmenopausal whales, it is indicated as a medication to treat cancer, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, endometrial polyps and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Just last year in 2016, Hargrove testified as an expert witness regarding the types of drugs and their dangerous side-effects when used to treat captive orcas. His expert testimony included the drug Regu-Mate.

Kasatka was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1978. Estimated to be around 39-years-old, she is one of SeaWorld’s most successful breeders and has given SeaWorld four orcas — Takara in 1991, Nakai in 2001, Kalia in 2004 and Makani in 2013. Kasatka’s attack on trainer Ken Peters in 1999, played a huge role in the decision by federal administrative law judge Ken Welsch to rule that trainers must be protected by physical barriers when working with orcas. As one of only a few wild-caught orcas remaining at SeaWorld, losing her will almost certainly impact the hierarchy of the remaining orcas at SeaWorld San Diego.

Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, former SeaWorld trainer and cast member of the hit documentary, ‘Blackfish’, said:

Kasatka & Katina are the two most valuable killer whales in the history of SeaWorld. The value of matriarchs Kasatka and Katina is based on the stability they’ve provided to their social groups in California & Orlando, as well as their fertility, each producing many offspring. When I saw the image of her today, as a physician, it immediately reminded me of end stage AIDS. She is so immuno-compromised, covered in fungus, it’s clear that she is near death. I hope she passes quickly. The video sequence of her throttling Ken Peters, as seen in the ‘Blackfish’ movie, is the most shocking human – orca encounter ever seen, including with wild whales, in my opinion.

Samantha Berg, who appeared in Blackfish with Ventre and Hargrove, shared Ventre’s anguish:

I just saw the photo of Kasatka’s disease ravaged body. Inevitably Kasatka’s death will be portrayed by the SeaWorld corporation as a tragedy. SeaWorld will say they are saddened to lose (yet another!) family member. They will tell the public and the media that they did everything they could to give her a loving home, restaurant quality fish, superior dental care and a whole host of other lies that should be familiar to anyone who is dialed in to the anti-captivity movement.

Kasatka’s trainers will be sad, the public will mourn, and the news cycle will move on to the next story and Kasatka will be forgotten.

So, before she goes I want people to at least know this:

It is Kasatka’s LIFE – not her death- that is the real tragedy.

Kasatka was stolen from her true family in Iceland in 1978. She has spent the last 39 years in prison. Her crime? She was born a killer whale – a species so intelligent, beautiful and intriguing to humans that the owners of Seaworld knew they could put her on display and charge other humans just to watch her swim in a tank.

Kasatka’ body has not been ravaged by illness alone – she has been forced to perform via food deprivation for every day of her life for the last 39 years. She has also been forced to bear children that were then removed from her side and relocated to other corporate-owned prisons. Given what we know about the bonds between mother and calves – this is an even greater violation than food deprivation and amounts to extreme emotional abuse.

Kasatka is not an individual – she is a corporate asset worth millions of dollars to a corporation that cares about her only to the extent that she can continue to perform and generate revenue. Her owners don’t care how she feels or that she just might have memories of another happier life in the ocean.

Kasatka is one of only 4 remaining wild-captured killer whales still living in US Seaworld parks. With her passing there will only be 3 – Ulysses and Corky in San Diego and Katina in Orlando.

Sadly, the practice of capturing wild killer whales has not ended – the Russians continue to capture whales and the Chinese are building new facilities for whales to perform, breed and be on display.

Morgan, a killer whale who was “rescued” in the Netherlands remains in prison at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands even though she could have been a candidate for release.

While SeaWorld will say that Kasatka’s life performing circus tricks for food helped them to provide an educational experience for countless numbers of school children who stream through their turnstiles every year – this is also a lie.

Watching whales perform tricks in captivity is a distraction from the very real dangers facing our planet and our oceans right now.

Did Kasatka’s prison term help to educate park goers about ocean acidification, plastic pollution, fish farm effluent or dams that are right now causing salmon populations to crash and thus leading to the death and starvation of a wild pod of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest?

Will her death wake people up enough to address these issues?

Likely not.

At least in death, Kasatka’s decades of suffering will finally come to an end. My heart breaks for her, not because she is dying but because she deserved better.

RIP Kasatka.

While we hope SeaWorld will publicly address the health issues Kasatka is facing, Hargrove echoed our sentiments about the orca who has spent her entire life confined for entertainment purposes. “How sad,” he said, “that she’s been reduced to this after everything she has done for this company and all the money she’s made for SeaWorld.”

Here at the Dolphin Project, we wish Kasatka freedom. You can help prevent orcas being held in captivity by signing our pledge to never buy a ticket to a dolphin and whale show.

A quick note about Regu-Mate for clarity: Regu-Mate, made by Merck is the trade name for a synthetic hormone called Altrenogest. It is not used to treat fungal infections and is not indicated as such in the above article. The MSDS sheet for this drug is available at It cautions pregnant women and others of childbearing age to exercise extreme caution when handling this product. Merck statesthat Regu-Mate is used in the management of prolonged estrus conditions.

Source: Dolphin

Another SeaWorld Orca is ill, Kasatka

August 2, 2016

Kasatka, the 38 year old matriarch of the Sea World San Diego pod, is ill. Sea World announced on their blog that she is currently being given both oral medication and a nebulizer. She is said be be suffering from both a respiratory and bacterial infection. They go on to say that it is also an illness that can not be cured, only managed, though it is not contagious to the other whales.

While pneumonia is never mentioned in Sea World’s online announcement or the video, one has to wonder if that is the illness that plaguing Kasatka. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death cited for killer whale death, though it is usually only the final complication caused by another underlying problem. This is the second illness that Sea World has announced this year (Tilikum’s being the first). Another whale Unna died late last year in Texas just shy of her 20th birthday.


The statement on Sea World’s blog reads as follows

August 1, 2016

Kasatka is the matriarch of our killer whale family at SeaWorld San Diego.  In her early 40s, she is a mom, grandmother, and is beloved by all her trainers and veterinarians.

We have been treating Kasatka for a bacterial respiratory infection for several years. Because of the great relationship she has with her trainers, Kasatka participates in her own husbandry and veterinary care where she is given her medications, both orally and through a nebulizer that allows the medicine to go directly to her lungs.

As Kasatka and her immune system age, she is having a more difficult time fending off the illness and her medication takes longer to have an effect.  However, our animal care team remains passionately committed to providing her the best possible care to ensure that her illness is properly managed and that she continues to live a quality life.

She has good days and not-so-good days, but Kasatka is part of our family and there is nothing our trainers and veterinarians won’t do to provide her with treatment, comfort, love and care.

Source: SeaWorld



SeaWorld to Stop Breeding Orca

March 17, 2016

SeaWorld has announced that it will stop their killer whale breeding program. The announcement was made through a letter sent to the LA times. Takara is currently pregnant with what will be her 5th live calf. This calf will be the last born at SeaWorld.

This announcement comes with the news that they will be moving away from theatrical shows and moving to an educational format. According to Seaworld they will be transforming their show tanks and view areas (Shamu close up) to a more naturalistic environment. The plan to start construction with SeaWorld San Diego next year. SeaWorld San Antonio will follow and lastly SeaWorld Orlando.

If SeaWorld follows through on this announcement it would mean that they are finally getting away form circus type entertainment and finally becoming a true aquarium/zoo facility. SeaWorld has been claiming for years that they were an educational facility dedicated to conservation. However that simply wasn’t the case while they focused their shows on unnatural killer whale acrobatics.


As a species killer whales are not endangered (even though the Southern Resident population in Washington state is critically endangered). What’s more the captive population is only a few generations away from any paring resulting in an inbreed calf. In fact there are already several whales that are the result of both intentional and unintentional inbreeding. Adan and Vicky (now diseased) who are the result of an intentional half uncle and niece paring (Keto and Kohana) and Nalani is the result of an accidental mother and son pairing (Katina and Taku). Even A.I. could have only ever bought SeaWorld a further 1 or 2 generations. The only responsible thing to do is to stop breeding. I am happy to see SeaWorld deciding to make their actions match their rhetoric of being a facility truly focused on education and conservation.

Source: SeaWorld Cares