One of Seaworld’s most prized and beloved animals, the 12 year-old male orca named Sumar, suddenly and mysteriously passed away this week, leaving behind a shocked and devastated staff. The death places even more pressure on the theme park chain, which was already under attack and intense scrutiny for having a trainer pass away in February.
But for the time being, the company’s focus is on the family member that they lost: “All of us, especially his trainers, will miss Sumar more than you know. He was a truly wonderful whale and was very deeply loved,” Sea World said in a public message on facebook.
Aside from the grief it has caused, the whale’s death complicates already difficult issues for the company, which relies on public support of keeping orcas in captivity and breeding them. With the increase of incidents related to confining orcas in private pools in the past year, that public support is on the decline, and skepticism about whether large pools at entertainment parks provide healthy environments for the normally nomadic orcas is increasing.
For their part, Sea World officials have contended that their environments are more than healthy, and that they provide expert medical care, nutrition programs, and stimulating activity for their animals. The controversy comes in the wake of a $75,000 fine last month by the U.S. Department of Labor over allegations that SeaWorld neglected safety measures before the death of an orca trainer in Orlando on February 24th.
Still, experts say that the issue is not so out of hand that SeaWorld will be heavily affected. Dennis Spiegel, president of International Theme Park Services, told the Union-Tribune: “People aren’t going to stop coming because one whale died.”
Photo from eschipul via flickr