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Whales Collide, 1 Is Fatally Injured in Sea World Tank

August 22, 1989|H.G. REZA | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Kandu, a killer whale who gave birth last year at Sea World, died Monday after a collision with another female whale during a show at the marine park.

Sea World officials issued a terse statement saying that the 14-year-old Kandu died after a "physical interaction" with Corky during the 4 p.m. killer whale show. Sea World officials refused to provide any other information about the circumstances of the whale's death.

There were conflicting versions of when the collision occurred. Some witnesses said the whales collided in the performing area of the 5 million-gallon tank while moving at high speed. Others said it must have happened when the whales were in a holding area behind the main pool or in a tunnel connecting the pen with the main pool.

Kandu weighs about 6,000 pounds, while Corky weighs about 8,000 pounds.

Ed Maley and Ruth Jacobsen, who are vacationing from New Jersey and witnessed the incident, said that in the second part of the whale show, the two females began circling the pool at a high rate of speed "for no apparent reason" and ignored the trainers' commands.

Maley said that at one point Kandu broke away and approached a male whale, who was locked in a separate holding pen, for a few seconds before she began circling the pool again. When she began circling the pool a second time, Maley noticed the blood.

"It wasn't just a little bit of blood. It was all over the place. It dirtied the whole pool. At one point, you just knew she was going to die," said Maley.

Several thousand people saw the injuries and were escorted from the stadium after an abbreviated show.

"It's very obvious to you, as it is to us, that (Kandu) is bleeding," an announcer at Shamu Stadium said. "We're not really sure what happened."

According to an Associated Press report, Jim Barnes--who brought his family on vacation from Stansbury Park, Utah--said, "They enticed (Kandu) back to the holding pen and brought the other female adult into the show pen and completed part of the show. Then they got the mother whale into about six inches of water--the baby was laying right there next to her--and the blood was really bad."

Ben Deeble, a Greenpeace whale expert from Seattle, said, "This is the first death of its kind involving killer whales that I know of. A (killer whale) in captivity is like keeping an eagle in a parakeet cage. In this case, they put two eagles in a parakeet cage."

Deeble said that Greenpeace was told that Corky and Kandu have been rivals for female dominance in the Sea World killer whale pools.

Corky, who was performing under the name of Shamu, is about 25 years old and was purchased from Marineland, near Los Angeles, about three years ago. Orky, a male killer whale, was purchased from Marineland at the same time and died last year.

Last September, Kandu gave birth to a whale calf during a performance. The baby was named Baby Shamu and was sired by Orky, who died three days after the birth.

Sea World officials said they do not believe that Kandu's death will have a serious effect on Baby Shamu. According to officials, the baby is eating between 40 and 45 pounds of solid food each day and "is sufficiently independent at this time." Kandu and Baby Shamu were featured in television commercials that aired throughout Southern California promoting the park.

Spokesmen for Sea World said that more information about the circumstances surrounding the whale's death will be released today. Plans are under way for Sea World veterinarians to perform a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

This is the second incident in two years where killer whales at the park have fought with each other, according to two people who witnessed an earlier confrontation. John Fitzrandolph, a San Diego junior high teacher, and Deborah York, a San Luis Obispo reporter, said that in June, 1987, they witnessed a bloody confrontation between two whales in the same tank.

Sea World has been plagued with problems involving its killer whales over the past two years. In November, 1987, trainers were pulled from the water after a number of trainers were injured over an eight-month period while performing with the animals.

The most serious incident involved trainer John Sillick, who was crushed when one whale landed on top of him while he was riding another. Sillick suffered broken ribs, pelvis and femur. The trainers were allowed back in the water in June, 1988 after park officials conducted a what they said was a thorough evaluation of training methods and procedures.

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