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The Truth Behind Samoa’s Death- captivity disease not found in wild orcas

May 25, 2011

The Truth Behind Samoa’s Death:

Samoa, a 14 year old female orca purchased by SeaWorld died from a fungus, NOT actual labor complications. Shocking new details publicly revealed about Samoa and her calf.

In 1989 SeaWorld Inc. obtained Samoa, an approx. 12 year old female orca whale from Aquarama Sao Paulo in Brazil. Samoa was sent to Sea World Aurora in May of 1989 and by March 14, 1992 Samoa had died at Sea World San Antonio.

During Samoa’s time at SeaWorld San Antonio she became pregnant with Kotar’s off spring producing a female fetus. During Samoa’s 13th month of pregnancy Samoa became so sick that it actually lead to her and the unborn fetus’s deaths.

According the Marine Mammal Inventory Report the 14 year old, female Orca whale named Samoa died from MYCOTIC MENINGOENCEPHALITIS. The necropsy report states Samoa died from SYSTEMATIC ZYGOMYCOSIS , which rarely causes disease in people or animals. This diagnosis is backed by a scientific study in the journal of Zoo and wildlife medicine 2002 American Association of Zoo Veterinarians

“During a 10-yr period, a killer whale (Orcinus orca), two Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), and two bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), all housed at SeaWorld of Texas from 1991 to 2001, were infected with fungi from the class Zygomycetes. In four out of five cases, the fungi were identified as either Saksenaea vasiformis or Apophysomyces elegans. Death occurred within 23 days after the initial clinical signs.”
“a killer whale was infected with zygomycetes, In one case, infection originated in the placenta and uterus of a periparturient animal.”

Also during our search for information regarding Samoa we have come across information stating Samoa died from labour complications. 

Killer Whale Dies While Giving Birth- Calf Also Dies

Yet upon reviewing Samoa’s necropsy report it is stated she had “a well organized infection caused by fungus” and “the degree of autolysis (self digestion refers to the destruction of a cell through the action of its own enzymes) of the fetal tissue is compatible with intrauterine (In the uterusdeath several days prior to the death of the dam”   On March 14, 1992 Samoa began to naturally abort the unborn dead fetus.

fetal flukes were observed protruding from the genital slit“.

Samoa’s body was trying to self abort the dead fetus!

The average gestation period for an orca is 15 to 18 months.  Samoa, at only 13 months was claimed to be giving birth. Logically this would have meant she was having a premature birth.  

Samoa’s necropsy report states: 

“Saksenaea Vasiformis was isolated from the uterus. hyphae (fungus) observed microscopically in the uterus and brain tissue were identical. Samoa had a 3 1/2 to 4 inch in diameter softness and hollow space in the right hemisphere of her brain.” (Saksenaea zygomycetes also aggressively invades the vascular system.)
Samoa had a huge area in her brain that had been severely damaged by the spread of the fungus which originated in her uterus.  She literally had brain damage as her brain was being eaten away by a common fungus found in soil.
It has been reported 
  Sea World – San Antonio (1992):  Months before her death in 1992, horrified onlookers had watched the orca Samoa perform “bizarre, repetitive movements, hurling her body into the air and crashing down again and again upon the hard surface of a wide shelf at the side of her pool.” In a tragic note, Samoa was pregnant, and her full-term fetus died with her due to birth complications (WDCS report Orcas: Dying to Entertain You, pg. 45).
 Saksenaea Vasiformis is an infectious fungus found world-wide in association with soil. It is most often associated with cutaneous (relating to or existing on or affecting the skin) or subcutaneous lesions (implies just under the skin) after trauma. It is very uncommon for individuals to contract Saksenaea Vasiformis, unless the immune system is compromised or weakened. The chance of curing the individual depends greatly upon early detection and treatment.  If left untreated mortality, is inevitable such as in Samoa’s case .
When one comes into contact with Saksenaea Vasiformis in an open wound, with a compromised immune system, and becomes infected there is generally two separate onset of symptoms displayed. If treated immediately with fungal medicine the results are generally not fatal. If there is improper treatment or no treatment during the first onset of symptomsm the results can and will generally lead to morbidity or mortality. 
For this type of fungus to be present in Samoa’s uterus shows a couple of different things
  • Samoa had an open tear or cut in her uterus
  • While having the open cut Samoa had “something” inserted into her uterus that had the fungus on it
  • Samoa had a compromised immune system
  • Samoa went untreated for this specific fungus far too long which lead to her and her calf’s mortality

This fungus could have been easily transmitted via an infected medical instrument or even a trainer’s own hands. Transmission of the fungus could also come from the water in the pool when husbandry procedures were being performed. The orcas are not moved to clean water when conducting husbandry procedures. These sessions occur in the same pools the orcas swim, urinate, poop in and trainers swim/walk in.

 Another option would be that during mating sessions with Kotar, he tore Samoa’s uterus and he himself  infected Samoa with the fungus, either through the water transmission from the pool or himself directly.  The risk for Zygomycosis is especially high when the skin or mucus membranes have been injured. Wound care is essential in preventing Zygomycosis. The wound must be carefully cleaned and monitored for signs of infection which obviously did not occur.

The cause of entry will never be known.  There is no evidence SeaWorld followed up with the whys and how Samoa actually obtained the fungus. 

Samoa has a fairly large necropsy report. This is in part due to all the damage that she suffered while being in captivity.  This is not a disease wild orcas get.

  • Shallow skin cracks were radiating from her blow with no evidence of external trauma. Most likely caused by long term sunburn or drying of the skin near the blow hole
  • Multiple worm like parasites were observed embedded in granulation tissue (new connective tissue and tiny blood vessels that form on the surfaces of a wound during the healing process ) in her sinuses.  Her left eustachian tube (passage that equalizes air pressure in ear) was utterly destroyed by granulation tissue (new connective tissue and tiny blood vessels that form on the surfaces of a wound during the healing process ) and osteophytes (bone spurs) resulting from presence of parasites 
  • Blood clots and hollow spots in her brain
  • Mainstream bronchi was  filled with white froth
  • Both lungs were filled with fluid: uniformly dark red, white froth oozed out on cut section
  • There appeared to be an excessive amount of clear, yellow fluid in her abdominal cavity. Petechiation (flat round red spots under the skin caused by hemorrhage) were observed on the peritoneal wall adjacent to the uterus
  • Multiple small stones in 3rd or 4th compartment of stomach

Reproductive System:

The left horn contained a near term female fetus that weighed 104.5 kg. The fetal tissue displayed ADVANCED autolysis (self digestion).

Gravid horn distended with fetus. Uterine surface diffusely dark red, placenta uniformly dark red and multiple petechial ( small (1-2mm) red or purple spots ) and paintbrush hemorrhages on serosa of uterus.

Gross Summary:

  1. Malacia (state of abnormal softening of tissue ) and cavitation of the lateral center of the right cerebral hemisphere (in brain).
  2. Multiple uterine hemorrhages.
  3. Vermionous pterygoid sinusitis (common North Atlantic worm).
  4. Autolytic (self-digestion) female calf in left uterine horn.

Microbiology Summary: Saksenaea Vasiformis was isolated from the uterus. Hyphae (fungus) observed microscopically in the uterus and brain tissue were identical.

Signed by: Leslie M. Dalton April 23rd, 1992

Ronald R. Crawley, D.V.M., Ph.D the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio also made comment’s regarding the necropsy findings.

The mycotic organism was found only in the uterus and brain. My impression is that a primary mycotic endometritis developed which spread to the brain and fulminating encephalitis developed. The degree of autolysis of the fetal tissue is compatible with intrauterine death several days prior to the death of the dam.”

Clifford J. Hixson VMD , Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Pathologists directly sent this comment to SeaWorld of Texas in regards to Samoa and her calf.

“Systemic zygomycosis is most likely responsible for the death of the mother killer whale and her calf. Severe tissue damage associated with luxutiant growth of fungal organisms is present in both the brain and uterus of the mother. Although fungal hyphae are evident in several areas of the placenta, there is no microscopic evidence of systemic invasion of fungal organisms in the calf”

Even though the necropsy report along with the other letters mention the fetus dying in the uterus days before Samoa, there is no mention of what actually caused the death of the calf. I suppose that is another matter SeaWorld did not care to know the whys or hows about. 

 This again raises the question about medical procedures being conducted in non-sterile environments with handlers not using sterile gloves or sterile equipment. Can SeaWorld actually meet the medical needs for captive orcas? This again, like Kanduke, may be another reminder of a disease that would seem to be isolated to captivity.



8 Comments leave one →
  1. Diane McNally permalink
    May 26, 2011 3:11 am

    Another tragic story of prison life and death for a sea being who is as intelligent as we are (at least), with similar needs for novelty, intellectual stimulation, social connection, autonomy, choice. How very ill she must have been for some time, doubtless still required to perform for her food, and for any recognition form the captors at all. Sea World is fast falling behind growing consciousness that orca circuses are ethically wrong. This sad story speaks to the health issues orcas suffer in their concrete prisons as well as the emotional and intellectual deprivation the endure.

  2. Vanessa permalink
    June 3, 2011 5:40 pm

    I feel sick reading something like it…
    I’m terribly sorry for what Orcas suffer in captivity.
    I remember visiting Aquarama in Sao Paulo when I was a little kid. I was glad when Sea World took her, thinking that she would have a better life there.
    Guess I was wrong… Either way she would suffer…
    Can’t imagine how bad she always felt being taken from the Ocean and living a life like that.
    Poor girl…

  3. L Cotton permalink
    June 24, 2011 11:51 am

    After bi annual contact with the cetaceans of Flamingo Park UK during my childhood (!980’s) I longed to work further with the marine mammals and researched about the orca that was formerly held here also known as Cuddles. I have revisited the subject throughout my adult life and over the last 4 months spent many evenings researching the afects of cetaceans kept in captivity.
    After reading Samoas’ tearful reports of fungal infections and half aborted feotus I am so sad and want to offer my time to further the reitirement of the marine mammals such as lolita. However I do believe that there should be sufficient funding and scientific services in place that the whales and dolphins around the world may live out their days in bay pens if the return to the pods of the wild are not applicable. I think it is a little blindsighted to assume that the whales would be ‘better off’ all round to be returned asa few studies ahave shown that the creeatures can severly suffer from the lack of human contact regular feeding etc… Is there any one body who may have taken part in the free keiko project who can offer the correct funding for the bay pens without time limit? I have been writing to several projects and agencies asking for more information and shall be happy to share when I recieve them,
    It is disheatening at best that we feel it an appropriate way to treat mother nature but it is done and I do feel there needs to be a move now to where we as an international society are a) moving to stop the further capture of cetaceans for captiviity.
    b) helping to retire the ones that remain while accepting that the reitrement may not bring about the full move back into the wild.
    c) accept that for all it’s faults it truly is time for the wild cetacean research and captive knowedge we have ammased to be brought together for the future use of all marine mammal knowledge we are only just touching surface. should some international governing body that is impartial and balanced not now be the best way forward?????

  4. July 6, 2011 12:49 pm

    I have watched the Shamn cam at times.How sad,just going in circles,so lonley.Thay need a better life,kk

  5. Cagnolino permalink
    July 18, 2012 5:14 am

    Hello, I write for an animal blog in portuguese (Brazil) and I would to ask you your authorization for translate (to portuguese) this article about Samoa. Samoa lived for a time in Brazil. Obviously, I’ll give you the credits. Thank you.

    • July 18, 2012 5:25 am

      Please do Cagnolino, you can translate. Will you send me the link to your article when it’s finished. I would love to pass it around in a different language. Thanks so much!

      • Cagnolino permalink
        July 18, 2012 7:34 am

        Oh, Thank you so much! I just finish! I’m Languages student.Now I`m checking medical terminology. soon as I finish at all I send to you. How I can give your credits? only the blog’s name/link, with you name too? how do you prefer? I live in Sao Paulo and Aquarama (where Samoa lived for a time) was part of my childhood (at 80’s). I guess many Brazilians dont have this kind of info, because we dont have whales in capitivity anymore, so this questions are not so popular here! thanks again.

      • Cagnolino permalink
        September 13, 2012 10:14 pm

        Hello, finally the translation:
        Thank you!

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