SAN DIEGO -
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals staged a demonstration at SeaWorld San Diego Wednesday to protest the park's whale-management policies in the wake of an incident that left an 11-year-old killer whale with a gaping lower-jaw injury.
According to SeaWorld, the male orca named Nakai was injured during a nighttime performance Sept. 20 while engaging in normal social behavior with other whales.
PETA, however, contends in its blog, the "PETA Files," that Nakai was attacked by two other orcas, Keet and Ikaika. It also quoted Ingrid N. Visser, founder and principal scientist of the Orca Research Trust, as saying that photographs of the injury show puncture marks consistent with the spacing of orca teeth.
In a complaint lodged with the U.S. Agriculture Department, PETA said it wants SeaWorld disciplined for not keeping the whales separated as required under the Animal Welfare Act. According to PETA, the law requires incompatible marine mammals to be kept in separate enclosures.
Around 30 people took part in the peaceful protest, holding signs while standing on a sidewalk outside the park. Acts of aggression are "far too common" when orcas are held captive, PETA campaigner Matt Bruce told a local media outlet.
"These orcas spend their entire lives in the wild, swimming up to 100 miles a day, freely able to choose their pod members," Bruce said. "Here at SeaWorld, those freedoms are denied, and they lash out at each other."
Dave Koontz of SeaWorld San Diego said the park's zoological facilities and methods of care exceed standards set by the Animal Welfare Act.
"There is no organization more passionately committed to the physical, mental and social care and well-being of animals than SeaWorld," Koontz said. "The real advocates for animals are the trainers, aviculturists, animal care staff and veterinarians at SeaWorld."
He said veterinarians are pleased with the progress of the healing of Nakai's wound. The killer whale is behaving normally and interacting well with his trainers and other whales, the spokesman said.