Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Killer Whale "Attack"

The news media reports that Kasatka, a female killer whale, injured a trainer during a show at SeaWorld Adventure Park in San Diego. It took hold of his foot in its mouth and pulled him underwater twice, rather than release him so that he could emerge from the water and jump off the whale's nose.

This is not the first time that a performing killer whale has been uncooperative with a trainer during a performance. In a highly publicized previous event, a whale turned on its trainer in apparent pursuit, presumably agitated and with possible intent to cause harm by repetitive battering behavior.

As has been learned repeatedly with other wild animals that have been raised in captivity, tamed, trained, or otherwise been domesticated to a degree sufficient to perform with humans, unpredictable events occur.

The killer whale, Orcinus orca, is probably not a ferocious killer of humans. The largest of the living mammalian dolphins, these magnificent animals grow to 33 feet and 10 tons and are found in all oceans. They usually travel in pods of up to 40 individuals. Swift and enormously powerful creatures, they feed on squid, fish, birds, seals, walruses, and other whales. Their powerful jaws are equipped with cone-shaped teeth directed back into the throat, designed to grasp and hold food. The killer whale can generate enough crushing power to bite a seal or porpoise in two with a single snap.

In captivity, killer whales are playful creatures and seem intelligent, without the primal behavior of sharks. However, as reflected by this most recent and other incidents, they can occasionally become aggressive.

Although killer whales are believed not to prey on humans, they should be regarded with respect and at a distance in their natural habitat.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.