SAN DIEGO — Kandu the killer whale died from massive bleeding caused by a freak injury when, showing "normal behavior," she attacked a larger female whale that she was attempting to dominate, Sea World officials said Tuesday.
Sea World veterinarian Jim McBain said Kandu, who weighed about 4,600 pounds, attacked Corky, her 7,000-pound rival, during the 4 p.m. show at the park Monday. McBain said trainers saw the whales fight in a holding pen behind the main pool midway into the 25-minute show.
The trainers reported seeing Kandu charge into Corky with her mouth open. The impact fractured Kandu's upper jaw, causing fatal hemorrhaging of major arteries in the whale's nasal passages, McBain said. The veterinarian said there was nothing park officials could do to save Kandu.
As thousands of spectators watched, Kandu spouted blood that stained the water and the sides of the tank.
"The altercation was initiated by Kandu. She was asserting her dominance by going after Corky with her mouth open," McBain said. "It's common behavior. For the survival of any species, the stronger animal has to rule.
"The death was an unexpected shock, but the altercation was not a rare event at all. It was normal behavior," he said.
Sea World officials said Kandu had repeatedly exerted her dominance since Corky was brought to the park from Marineland three years ago.
While Sea World officials characterized the whale death as an accident resulting from normal whale behavior, critics took the opportunity to reopen the debate over whether these mammals should be kept in captivity.
On Tuesday, Sea World officials briefly considered canceling the park's trademark whale shows. But McBain said the suggestion was rejected when trainers argued that it would be better for the remaining three whales "if we continued with a normal day." The shows continued Tuesday morning, but there were no trainers in the pool.
Many park visitors interviewed Tuesday in the killer whale stadium said they were unaware of Kandu's death. Park officials said they are currently in their peak season and attendance was normal Tuesday.
According to McBain, the fatal collision between the two whales only took about five seconds, but Kandu lingered for about 45 minutes before she died. The orca made news last September when she gave birth to Baby Shamu during a performance. The birth was videotaped, and the marine park has been using it in its advertising campaign.
Despite the fact that Baby Shamu was still nursing, Sea World officials said they were confident that Kandu's death will not have an adverse effect on the young whale. McBain said Baby Shamu is eating about 40 to 45 pounds of solid food a day and is staying with Corky at night.
"Obviously, she (Baby Shamu) realizes that something is different. She appears to be awaiting her mother, but we think she'll do all right at the end," McBain said.
Corky, who is believed to be in her mid to late 20s, suffered superficial cuts but was otherwise unhurt in the incident, McBain said. Kandu was believed to be 14 years old and had given birth in 1986 to a baby that was stillborn.
Killer whales' social structure is dominated by females, and the only males allowed in a pod are transient breeders and babies. McBain said it was natural for a younger female like Kandu to assert her dominance over an older one like Corky.
McBain said that at first, it was not apparent to the trainers that Kandu had been injured in the brief confrontation with Corky. No trainers were in the water when the fight occurred, Sea World officials said. About two minutes after the two made contact, both mammals briefly chased each other in the main pool but did not touch again, McBain added.
At that point, trainers and thousands of horrified spectators in Shamu Stadium saw blood streaming from Kandu's blowhole. While one trainer directed Kandu and Baby Shamu back to the holding pen, another stayed with Corky, McBain said.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, owners of the four Sea Worlds and two other theme parks, are currently looking for a buyer to take over the attractions. Analysts and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich officials downplayed the financial impact of the whale's death and its possible effects on the sale of the parks.
They pointed out that Sea World has 16 other whales, including five calves born in captivity over the last two years. Kandu, who was valued at about $1 million, was not insured.
A necropsy was done on Kandu Monday night. McBain said veterinarians found nothing unusual with Kandu's internal organs.
Kandu's death was the second whale fatality at Sea World in less than a year. Orky, a male whale who accompanied Corky when Sea World bought Marineland, died last September, three days after Kandu gave birth to Baby Shamu. Orky sired Baby Shamu. A necropsy revealed that Orky, who was about 30 and the oldest killer whale in captivity at the time, died from natural causes.
Times staff writers Anthony Millican and Chris Kraul contributed to this report.
SEA WORLD BIDDERS--At least four firms are interested in buying four Sea Worlds and two other theme parks. Part IV, Page 11