The Disabled Ones

Many animals will not accept others with a handicap. If the other is “different” to them they will usually abandon it and in some cases even kill it. The animal kingdom can be beautiful but also look ruthless at times. Like humans, orcas are more social and emotional compared to other species. They have lifelong friendships and can take care of others when needed. The killer whale is known to be a big friendly giant that will even rescue a human in need. One story tells that whalers in Australia that got knocked over in their boat were protected by orcas from sharks. Another tale known is off a killer whale escorting a human to safety when she got lost on the waters of Vancouver, Canada.

But what about disabled members of their pod? Would they take care of one animal that would not be able to survive on itself? There are a few records of disabled killer whales both in the wild and captivity. And although they are rarely born with a handicap, the tales about those who are disabled are both sad and stunning at the same time.

In 1973 a young killer whale in British Columbia was hit by a ferry crossing the water. Badly injured by this accident it was not able to breathe on its own. Two older whales swam up to the young one and started pushing him to the surface to breathe. Two weeks later the injured whale was spotted again, still being helped by the others to survive. The faith of this orca is unknown but one can assume it did die in the end as no further records can be found.

In 1996 scientists took pictures of a disabled young orca in Norway. The female misses most of her dorsal fin and has a deformed spine. She was called “Stumpy”. Although she was not spotted for a few years she was located again in 2002. She has been seen swimming with several different pods indicating that she gets “adopted” by other orcas. In 2012 Stumpy was studied in Norway and one of the things that was noticed was the way she got her food. Not being able to hunt herself she relied on others to help her get her daily dose of fish. The others would hunt the fish while Stumpy waited patiently for her turn to join in for a meal. She would swim next to another killer whale that just caught a fish, the other orca would then bite off a chunk and let Stumpy eat the rest of it.

In 2013 a disabled killer whale was spotted of the coast of Africa. Just like the orca in Norway, this one also was called “Stumpy”. The young male misses his dorsal fin and his right pectoral fin which makes it harder for him to swim and hunt. It was witnessed that the other orcas were hunting a whale while Stumpy stayed away from the hunt. When the rest had killed the whale he would swim down to join them in eating the prey. These 3 stories are examples of how killer whales take care of each other and the intelligence of these animals.

However, not all killer whales are alike and conditions in which they live can be very different.

Gudrun was a female orca that was captured in Iceland and sold to the Dolfinarium of Harderwijk, Holland. In 1987 she was send to SeaWorld, Orlando to become part of their breeding program. On December 31, 1993 Gudrun gave birth to her second calf called “Nyar”. Born to Gudrun and Tilikum this young orca showed to be unhealthy. The veterinarians of SeaWorld had to do their best to keep Nyar alive and noticed she was progressing like other young orcas did. Gudrun had been a great mother to her first child “Taima” but did not accept Nyar. She tried to drown her new born child several times and the park had to separate mother and calf to prevent Gudrun from killing Nyar. The young orca was kept away from the public as it was not able to perform in the shows.

On February 22, 1996 Gudrun was giving birth to her 3rd calf when things went dramatically wrong. The calf was stillborn and the veterinarians had to pull it out of Gudrun using an iron chain. Due to the complications Gudrun was given antibiotics and painkillers. On February 25, 1996 Gudrun swam up to the gate that separated her from Nyar, softly rubbed her nose against her daughter and died not much later. Was this a mother seeking comfort and/or forgiveness?Almost one month later on April 1st Nyar’s immune system gave in. The young orca had difficulty breathing and died that same day just 3 years old.