12-year-old orca dies at SeaWorld San Diego

By City News Service

A performing killer whale in the prime of its life died of unknown causes at SeaWorld San Diego on Tuesday, about 24 hours after abruptly taking ill, the marine park announced Tuesday afternoon.

Sumar, a 12-year-old orca that had been at the Mission Bay tourist attraction since 2001, succumbed to the as-yet unidentified disease or condition about 1:45 p.m., SeaWorld spokesman Dave Koontz said.

Earlier in the day, the park had canceled the first of two scheduled killer-whale shows to allow its staff to devote its energies to tending to Sumar. The evening performance was later shelved, as well.

Sumar was a young adult that had no history of serious medical problems, Koontz said. When he began behaving in a lethargic manner around midday Monday, SeaWorld’s veterinary staff took blood samples and and put him on an aggressive antibiotic regimen.

“Unfortunately ... he did not respond,” Koontz said. “His condition continued to deteriorate today. ... Whatever illness he had, it moved very fast.”

A necropsy - the veterinary equivalent of an autopsy - was planned for this evening. A cause-of-death ruling, however, could could be on hold for weeks or months, pending completion of tissue tests and other lab work, according to Koontz.

The spokesman said it was a “very sad day” for trainers and other staff members at SeaWorld.

“They love these animal,” he said. “They are devoted to these animals, and (the death of one is) like losing a member of their family.”

Killer whales in captivity routinely live into their 30s or 40s, according to Koontz.

The normal daily schedule of orca shows at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium will resume on Wednesday, the spokesman said.