The famous beluga whale, Nanuq, has died at SeaWorld Orlando. Nanuq was part of the Wild Arctic attraction and the “Beluga Interaction Program.” The beluga whale died on Friday while being treated for a fractured jaw sustained from an “interaction between two animals.”
SeaWorld Orlando made the announcement on Friday afternoon via the company’s official Facebook page. The announcement claims that the cause of death is unknown, but that veterinarian staff at SeaWorld had been treating Nanuq for a fractured jaw.
The Daily Mail reports that Nanuq was on long-term breeding loan to SeaWorld from Vancouver Aquarium. Nanuq had been with SeaWorld since 1997. Nanuq was a main attraction in the Wild Arctic section. Visitors could purchase a $119+ ticket to “interact” with Nanuq for a photo op. In fact, a number of celebrities have been pictured with Nanuq throughout the years including Kelly Clarkson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Will Ferrell.
The Orlando Sentinel notes that the death of the beluga whale couldn’t come at a worse time for SeaWorld. Scott Smith, a University of South Carolina assistant professor who teaches hospitality courses, told the publication that with backlash from the documentary BlackFish, SeaWorld will be hit especially hard by Nanuq’s death.
“It really is one of the worst times this kind of news could come out. Any other time, it probably wouldn’t even make a blip on the radar, but now everyone is watching SeaWorld.”
As a result of backlash from animal rights organizations, SeaWorld has said they will double the size of their orca enclosures at all three SeaWorld parks. However, many activists believe that cetaceans, like the beluga whale and orca, do not belong in captivity. PETA has already jumped on SeaWorld for the death of Nanuq noting inadequate veterinarian care.
“One thing seems pretty clear, though: SeaWorld allowed Nanuq’s infection to become so severe that it was fatal. PETA is submitting a complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture inquiring about unsafe handling practices and possible incompatible confinement and inadequate veterinary care at SeaWorld.”
It isn’t just animal rights activists looking into Nanuq’s death. CBC News reports that since Nanuq was on loan from the Vancouver Aquarium, the Park Board is discussing issues surrounding the breeding of cetaceans in captivity. Vancouver Park Board commissioner Michael Wiebe says the death of Nanuq has stirred up the discussion again.
“The conversation has obviously been brought back to the table. Nanuq was someone who I used to see as a kid, because I was a Vancouver Aquarium member. It’s important, and so we will look at how it was being treated and what the practices are and what we could do to make it better.”
Do you think whales such as Nanuq belong in captivity? Should SeaWorld be required to make additional changes following the death of the arctic whale?