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SeaWorld's Nanuq Likely Suffered For Weeks Prior to Death

Ocean Advocate News was informed on January 31 that Nanuq, SeaWorld's male beluga whale used for breeding, was ill. We were told that he was being kept in the back because he was “lethargic”. He was reportedly being kept company by Whisper, another beluga at SeaWorld, who “peps him up.” It was no surprise to hear that he died last Thursday, but it is very possible that he suffered in his last weeks of life considering that he never recovered from the illness/injury.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Nanuq was being treated for a jaw infection after an “interaction” between a “compatible social group.” If the group of belugas at SeaWorld Orlando were compatible, it is questionable why this type of interaction would occur.

Nanuq's death is not the first time an animal has died at SeaWorld following an “interaction” between animals. The most infamous whale-on-whale death is that of Kandu and Corky. In a violent act, Kandu rushed into Corky so hard that she broke her jaw and bled out in a back pool. Tim Zimmerman writes of other interactions such as those between Kanduke and Kotar and between Kalina and Kayla.

Nanuq was captured in Manitoba in August 1990. He has been transferred from Vancouver to all three SeaWorld parks at one time or another for his entire life for the sole purpose of breeding, no matter the cost. It is apparent by his death that SeaWorld had little to no consideration for the social dynamics of the belugas in their care, or of the impact that moving Nanuq in and out of these social situations would have.

According to an August 2014 piece in Vancouver Observer, Nanuq the most successful of SW’s breeding whales with seven living offspring. Six other offspring did not survive birth or early infancy.

Georgia Aquarium is in a continuing battle to import 18 wild caught beluga whales from Russia to replenish the captive stock in the US. David Kirby reports for TakePart in 2013:

A new YouTube video shows Vice President of Education and Training Brian Davis explaining why the “Beluga Whale Conservation Project” is supposedly such a lofty and worthwhile undertaking.

Davis repeats the industry’s longstanding claim that seeing belugas in tanks somehow inspires people to go out and directly help save them in the ocean, without providing any evidence to back it up.

During the video, Davis smiles gently as he tries to explain how the removal of 18 wild-caught, highly social animals, ripped from their families, will benefit all belugas—including wild ones—but makes no attempt to hide the true motive behind the high-stakes legal challenge: Without new DNA, North America’s beluga display industry will sputter to an end.

“Right now is a critical time,” Davis says gravely. Just over 30 captive belugas are kept in North American facilities, and they have a “relatively poor genetic diversity,” he says. “Our community is facing certain extinction of our beluga population in human care,” the industry’s euphemism for captivity.

In general, many belugas born into captivity do not fare well.

Nanuq’s life and death are an example of everything wrong with belugas, and other cetaceans, in captivity. His life consisted of being ripped away from his family in the wild, transferred multiple times between parks for breeding, put into unnatural and incompatible social groups, and likely suffering for weeks prior to his death.

USDA will be completing an investigation on Nanuq’s death.

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