[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Mosquitoes felled two killer whales


(Discovery News)


Analysis by Tim Wall
Thu Apr 26, 2012 05:24 AM ET

The mosquito plague of summer is fast approaching and with it comes the threat of diseases, such as St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile virus. Not just human picnickers and campers have to worry about mosquito-borne disease. Even the largest of captive creatures is in danger from the tiny pests.

Two orcas, or killer whales (Orcinus orca), kept in captivity have died from the two diseases mentioned above, reported the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).

"I think it is safe to say that no one would have thought of the risks that mosquitoes might pose to orcas in captivity, but considering the amount of time they unnaturally spend at the surface in shallow pools at these facilities, it is yet another deadly and unfortunate consequence of the inadequate conditions inherent to captivity," said Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for WDCS.

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In captivity, the aquatic predators can't move around or dive as much as they do in the wild. The orcas spend time floating at the surface, especially while sleeping, and that makes them a tempting 6 ton blood smorgasbord for mosquitoes.

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"Logging (floating at the surface) was commonly witnessed while I was at SeaWorld, especially at night, which provided a static landing platform for mosquitoes," former Sea World orca trainer John Jett told the WDCS. "Free ranging orcas, conversely, are on the move and not exposed to mosquitoes. They don't remain still long enough and mosquitoes are weak fliers, limited to coastal areas."

The two orca fatalities were:

Kanduke – The 25-year old orca died at SeaWorld Orlando due to St. Louis encephalitis in 1990.
Taku – The 14-year-old male died after being fatally infected with the West Nile Virus in 2007 at SeaWorld San Antonio.

The WDCS questions the ethics of keeping highly intelligent, social whales and dolphins in captivity and call for an end to the practice. They discourage tourists from visiting marine parks that hold cetaceans in captivity.


The orca show at Loro Parque, Tenerife (Idontknow09, Wikimedia Commons)

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