Orca’s death in Europe’s biggest marine park raises questions over animal welfare

Orca's death in Europe's biggest marine park raises questions over animal welfare

Inouk, a 25-year-old orca, died where he was born: in a concrete tank. He was the second orca to die in less than six months in the tanks at Marineland, in Antibes, near Calais. The orca shows, due to resume this Easter weekend after a winter break, were postponed.

The young male was recognizable by his completely collapsed dorsal fin and toothless mouth. The reasons for his death are not yet known, but the animal had been treated for serious dental problems over several years. According to a report by three scientists – including New Zealand orca specialist Ingrid Visser, who was commissioned by the One Voice organization – Inouk had worn his teeth down to the pulp by gnawing on his tank, forming ulcers on his gums and abscesses in his jaw. The poor state of the marine mammal’s teeth had previously been confirmed by veterinarian Estelle Rousselet in November 2023, during an on-site visit carried out at the request of the French government.

Visser’s report, which echoed Marineland’s own 2010 presentation sheet for Inouk, also stated that the park had had to resort to medication to stimulate the animal’s appetite – a fact which was confirmed by a former trainer – and that he sometimes exhibited “aggressive” behavior towards trainers, especially when they tried to “look at his teeth.”

Autopsy to be performed

Marineland did not wish to comment beyond a press release announcing the “terrible news, which affects the trainers and all the teams,” except to specify that “the orcas are monitored daily, receive the best care by the best specialists and that the state authorities monitor the site very regularly.” It also highlighted its membership “in the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums” and the fact that it holds “the very demanding ‘Humane Certified’ certification.” In conjunction with state services, an autopsy will be carried out in the next few days to determine the exact cause of the animal’s death.

Five months before Inouk’s death, Moana was found dead at the bottom of the pool at the tender age of 12. His autopsy report, which was consulted by Le Monde, read: “Disappeared from the surface at 8:06 am after a few quick breaths.” Among the tests carried out by the laboratories, PCR tests for avian flu, brucellosis, flavivirus and Covid-19 (rarely observed in orcas) were positive, but the park’s veterinarian believes that these were probably “asymptomatic infections.”

Fungal pneumonia was also found in one of the lungs, as well as ulcers and “foreign bodies” in his stomach, which were probably toys it had eaten and “probably without any significant clinical incidence for the animal,” concluded the park vet. In the end, a bacterium causing “acute bacterial septicemia” caused Moana’s death.

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Orca’s death in Europe’s biggest marine park raises questions over animal welfare

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