Page Updated: May 28, 2002

Ingested Items Killed Winnie

San Antonio officials believe last month's death of a killer whale was caused by coins, tile and other objects the orca had swallowed years ago at a marine park overseas.

Winnie, a 26-year-old killer whale and the second one to die at the San Antonio park in about eight months, had lived at the Windsor Safari Park in Windsor, England, for 13 years.

A necropsy performed by SeaWorld and independent pathologists shortly after the whale died April 11 revealed it had ingested pieces of tile and British coins, along with nuts, bolts and other small items that made up a roughly 12-pound mass of objects that blocked her upper gastrointestinal tract.

The blockage prevented absorption of nutrients from her food, causing an electrolyte imbalance that made her too sick to respond to antibiotics, park officials said.

The 4,200-pound whale, originally captured near Iceland, shared a tank with dolphins at Windsor Safari Park, which closed in 1992 amid financial troubles. Animal activists cheered closure of the park.

When Winnie was sold to SeaWorld and flown to its former park in Aurora, Ohio, in 1991, she was believed to be one of the last killer whales still in captivity in England at the time.

Dudley Wigdahl, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld San Antonio, described Windsor Safari Park as a small, antiquated marine park. He said he believes the foreign objects were coins people had thrown into the water, and broken ceramic tiles that had lined Winnie's tank.

The nature of her death underscores the need to respect nature, because animals often mistake plastic bags and other refuse for food, Wigdahl said.

"Where we see it is when we get a beached animal" that SeaWorld tries to rescue, he said.

To prevent similar tragedies, SeaWorld sells drinks without plastic straws; stores its ice in pink plastic bags that can easily be spotted; and has divers check its tanks for foreign objects at the end of each day, park officials said.

The park still has three healthy killer whales.

Winnie Dies At SeaWorld - San Antonio!

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - For the second time in less than a year, a SeaWorld killer whale has died at the marine park in San Antonio.

The 4,200-pound whale named Winnie had been treated with antibiotics since last month and died Thursday. She had been performing at the park since 1999. SeaWorld officials and Brooks Air Force Base pathologists were trying to determine the cause.

A total of seven orcas have died at SeaWorld San Antonio since it opened 14 years ago. The marine park has three surviving whales and no immediate plans to acquire another.

``The whales that we have all know the shows,'' Dudley Wigdahl, vice president of zoological operations, said in Saturday's San Antonio Express-News. ``All are quite capable of performing through the summer.''

Last year, a 5,700-pound orca named Haida died due to a brain abscess that originated with a common fungus. Both whales had been captured in the wild.

Animal rights activists have long sought a ban on using orcas in marine parks, complaining that confinement causes psychological, physical and developmental problems that shorten the whales' lives.

Marine park officials argue captivity has not been proven harmful and can protect the whales from disease, predators, pollution and fishing nets.

Marine biologists believe killer whales live 50 to 70 years on average, although biologists have only about 35 years of data on the species, Wigdahl said.

Winnie was believed to be about 26 years old, and Haida was about 21.