*** Warning: Content may be considered disturbing ***
By KFMB’s Shannon Handy
SAN DIEGO — A killer whale at Sea World is recovering from a serious injury to its jaw.
Officials at the San Diego animal park said the 11-year-old orca, Nakai, may have been hurt by a barrier in a pool.
But some experts disagree.
Pictures reportedly taken from a video one week after the incident show a large open wound just below Nakai’s jaw.
(Watch the video above to see the injury. Mobile users click here for video.)
Sea World officials told News 8 the gash went through flesh and blubber and they discovered the injury following a show on the night of Sept. 20.
At this point they believe the whale may have hurt himself by bumping into a barrier at the pool.
But several people who study marine mammals disagree.
“To me if it was a sheering sort of thing, along the side of the pool it may have started off that way but something else has pulled that chunk off his lower jaw,” said Deborah Giles, with the UC Davis Dept. of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology.
Online reports suggest Nakai may have gotten into an altercation with two other whales inside of the pool.
But Giles, who studies killer whales at UC Davis, said while it’s possible, the wound doesn’t appear to have teeth marks, which suggests Nakai may have been caught on something.
“It’s more possible in my mind that this injury occurred when the whale may have been going between pools, and come in contact with, not concrete, but something metal,” Giles said.
Bob Pitman, a marine ecologist with NOAA fishery, said while it’s difficult to say how Nakai was injured, from his experience studying killer whales in the wild, Nakai will recover.
“I’ve seen a lot worse in wild animals, I can say that. And I’ve seen animals heal from a lot worse than that so it’s within their capability to completely heal from something like that,” said Pitman.
Sea World officials are just as confident, saying Nakai is on antibiotics and could start performing again within the next few months.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture about Sea World of San Diego.
The animal rights organization said Sea World is violating the Animal Welfare Act by housing orcas together that are incompatible.