SeaWorld Fact Check

Aggression | Safety
Calf / Mother Separation
Wild Capture
Dorsal Fin Collapse
Drive Hunts | Taiji
Killer Whale Tanks
Sea Pens
Wild Whales

AskSeaWorld - Dorsal Fin Collapse


Nakai is a male orca born at SeaWorld San Diego, in California, on 1 September 20011. His mother is Kasatka and his father is Tilikum2, the orca who features in the documentary Blackfish3 (Nakai’s father had already killed two people when he sired Nakai and subsequently has killed another4).

Nakai was badly injured when a large (at least 20cm diameter) piece of skin and flesh was removed from between his mandibles (in his ‘chin’ area) (Figure 1). The tissue removed was substantial (Figure 2) and one edge of the wound appeared to have a tear in it (Figure 3). SeaWorld later claimed that the injury was a result of ‘contact’ with the side of the tank5 and this developed into “SeaWorld [reached] its conclusion that Nakai’s injury was caused by the whale scraping the track that holds the watertight gates between the two pools at Shamu Stadium”6. However, that claim has been disputed by various sources, including trainers and scientists7, who either witnessed the event and have claimed it was an act of aggression between male orcas, or who obtained photographs showing puncture marks at the edge of the wound that are similar in spacing to orca teeth (see insert with arrows, Figure 1).

The injury occurred the evening of 20 September 2012, when Nakai was 11 years old. The resultant wound was treated with lasers and Nakai was administered antibiotics8. The open wound was still clearly visible on 29 January 2013 (i.e., 4 months and 10 days after the injury occurred; see Figure 4).

Although continuing to heal, the injury had not completely closed by 7 July 2015 (Figure 5), 2 years, 9 months and 13 days after the injury. Visual inspection (no photos obtained) confirmed that on 7 October 2015 (i.e., 3 years, 18 days after the injury), it remained open. SeaWorld’s own photograph (undated) from its #AskSeaWorld response shows the wound as still open.

Nakai resumed performing in shows at SeaWorld during the first week of December 2012 (only weeks after the injury).  Despite SeaWorld’s statement that “The types of behaviors asked of Nakai during the ‘One Ocean’ show do not have a detrimental effect on the wound area,”6 he is required to beach on the slideouts and extend his head into the air (Figure 6), placing strain on the skin surrounding the injury. He is also required to perform unnatural behaviors, such as ‘backward bows’ (Figure 7), which place additional strain on the skin in this area.

Nakai - injury

Figure 1. Nakai’s wound 10 days post injury. Four puncture marks are visible at the lower right of the wound and the spacing of these matches the spacing of orca teeth (compare the spacing to Nakai’s own teeth). 30 September 2012, taken at SeaWorld San Diego.



Nakai - missing flesh and tissue

Figure 2. The amount of flesh and tissue missing from the wound on Nakai is discernible from this angle. 30 September 2012, taken at SeaWorld San Diego.



Nakai - wound opening

Figure 3. The opening on the side of the wound, on Nakai’s left. SeaWorld has stated that this wound was due to ‘contact’ with the side of the tank. 30 September 2012, taken at SeaWorld San Diego.



Nakai - Jan 28, 2013

Figure 4. Photo taken on 28 January 2013. This wound was described by SeaWorld spokesman Dave Koontz as “85-90 percent healed” in the San Diego Union-Tribune6.



Nakai - July 2015

Figure 5. The wound is still open, more than two years and nine months, post-injury. 12 July 2015, taken at SeaWorld San Diego.



Nakai - head lift

Figure 6. Nakai during a slideout, indicating how he is required to lift his head high during performances, which stretches the skin around the wound. The tear on the side of the original wound is still visible as a lighter-colored scar (indicated by arrow). 12 July 2015, taken at SeaWorld San Diego.



Nakai - backward bow

Figure 7. Nakai performing a ‘backward bow’ during a show at SeaWorld. Confirmation that this is Nakai can be seen in the zoom-in circle, showing the still open wound between his mandibles, as his head begins to enter the water. 12 July 2015, SeaWorld San Diego.












We’ve received several questions about how Nakai’s chin has healed. Nakai was injured a few years ago, but as you can see from these recent pictures, his chin has healed very well and he is in great overall health.