Hand Rearing a Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) Calf--The First Year
IAAAM Archive
Steven D. Osborn; Leslie M. Dalton
SeaWorld San Antonio
San Antonio, TX, USA


A female killer whale (Orcinus orca) was born at SeaWorld San Antonio on October 9, 2005. Immediate aggression by the mother against the calf necessitated separation of the calf from the mother and required the initiation of hand rearing. The calf was moved to a pool in the support area to facilitate around-the-clock care. A female bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) was moved into the pool as a companion. The calf weighed 120 kilograms (kg) at birth and had a length of 205.7 centimeters (cm). Starting on day 1, a milk formula (Table 1) was provided via stomach tube every two hours. Daily total volumes of formula started at 7.0 liters (l) and ranged from 3.8 l to 9.5 l during the first month. Milk obtained from the mother was substituted for an equal volume of formula on days 1 to 33. Daily amounts of mother's milk collected ranged from 42 milliliters (ml) to 4755 ml. Starting on day 4, formula (or mother's milk) and gruel were mixed in an approximately 1:1 ratio. Nutritional analysis determined the formula/gruel mixture provided 1.5 kilocalories per ml and mother's milk provided between 2.8 and 3.3 kilocalories per ml. Bottle feeding was attempted beginning on day 1 and finally accepted by the calf on day 16, alternating with tube feeding. Tube feeding was completely eliminated by day 33. Whole fish (herring only) was added to the diet on day 134 in slowly increasing quantities while decreasing the quantity of formula from a high of 13.5 l per day. For each added kg of fish, one liter of formula was subtracted from the daily total. While adding herring to her diet, caloric intake was maintained between 70 and 85 kcals/kg body weight. The calf was moved from the support area to a back pool at the killer whale habitat on day 204. At the time of the move the calf had already been weaned off formula and was eating 13.2 kg of herring per day. Capelin and mackerel were introduced to her diet of herring on day 238.

Hematology and serum chemistries were evaluated every two days for the first two weeks, then weekly for the next two months, decreasing to every two weeks for the next three months. A voluntary fluke present for blood collection was first obtained on day 289. Body weight was evaluated daily for the first 6 weeks and then once or twice a week until day 230. Weights were then obtained every two weeks until she was able to slide out on the platform scale on day 400. The calf weighed 503.6 kg at one year of age, was 294.6 cm in length and was eating 22.7 kg of fish daily. The calf gained 383.6 kg in body weight and 88.9 cm in length during her first year.

Purified Orcinus immunoglobulins were given by intramuscular injection on days 1, 7, and 17. The IgG was given at 1 milligram/kg body weight (10 micrograms per ml of estimated blood volume). The calf was vaccinated with Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae bacterina, 2 ml intramuscularly, on days 152 and 177.

Table 1. Basic milk formula used to hand rear the Orcinus calf.

 2 cups Zoologic 30/55b

 4 cups Zoologic 33/40b

 100 ml VitaShinec oil

 1 tablet 5# SeaWorld marine mammal vitamins

 3000 mg dicalcium phosphate

 1000 mg taurine

 1100 ml water

 1100 ml 0.9% NaCl injection, USP

 120 ml 50% dextrose

 200 ml heavy whipping cream

For gruel, basic milk formula plus 0.7 kg filleted herring and viscera

a. ER Bac Plus, Pfizer Animal health, Exton, PA 19341
b. Zoologic, 261 Keyes Ave., Hampshire, IL 60140
c. Ocean Nutrition Canada LTD., 39 England Drive, Mulgrave, Nova Scotia, Canada B0E 2G0


The authors would like to thank all of the SeaWorld San Antonio team members for their support; especially the Animal Care and Training staff that devoted over 3400 hours to hand raise this calf successfully.

Speaker Information
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Steven D. Osborn

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