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SeaWorld says claim of whale attack in video released by PETA is normal orca behavior

SeaWorld is facing another round of criticism from animal rights activists over keeping whales in captivity. The latest bout comes after the release of a cell phone video appears to show two killer whales attacking each other. This happened after another whale died from an infection last week. KPBS reporter Alexander Nguyen has the story.

SeaWorld on Monday is facing another round of criticism from animal rights activists over keeping whales in captivity.

The latest bout comes after the release of a cell phone video that appears to show two killer whales attacking each other. The video, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said showed two whales attacking each other inside an orca enclosure at SeaWorld last Friday.

The video was shot by Kimberlee, who did not want her last name used. She was visiting with her family from Sacramento.

“One of my children pointed out that they saw blood in the water," she said. "And so we kind of we stopped and we noticed that the whale started to beach itself, and so I decided to take pictures at that point.”

She then reported the incident to PETA because she said SeaWorld doesn’t seem to have a proper protocol for when something like this happens. The animal rights organization this happens when animals used to roam vast distances are housed in crowded pools.

“PETA is now calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate the park for holding animals in these conditions that are so stressful that they lead to these horrific attacks,” said Melanie Johnson, PETA's Animals In Entertainment Campaign manager. She said families should stop going to SeaWorld.

SeaWorld said what PETA said is "misleading and mischaracterized." The theme park said despite the looks of things, this is normal orca behavior known as rake marking. It's when tooth whales run their teeth over each other's skin.

In a video published on SeaWorld's YouTube page in 2015, the park's chief veterinarian Dr. Christopher Dold said this happens all time, both in the wild and in captivity. It's how these animals interact socially.

“The suggestion that this is somehow abnormal — that this is an indicator of a problem, the truth of the matter is … all tooth whales and dolphins rake each other," he said.

PETA, however, said whales and dolphins should not be kept in captivity and that they should be released to seaside sanctuaries where they have more room to roam. Right now no such sanctuaries for orcas exist.

Kimberlee said because of the experience, her family won't be returning to SeaWorld ever again.

The video was taken one day after the death of Nakai, a 20-year-old orca that was born and lived at SeaWorld. The marine park announced Friday he died of an infection.

Nakai died Thursday night despite "aggressive therapeutic and diagnostic efforts" to treat the whale's infection, a statement said.

Nakai was born at SeaWorld San Diego in 2001, and participated in hearing studies to help scientists better understand the impact on orcas of noise from ships and other human activity.

"He'll be remembered as a curious and quick learner, often picking up behaviors just by observing the other whales in his pod," the statement said. "His contributions to helping improve the health and survival of whales in the wild cannot be underestimated and will never be forgotten."

A member of Nakai's team who cared for him for 20 years was quoted in the statement as saying, "I have been professionally and personally invested in the welfare of Nakai since he was born in our park, and the bond we shared was very strong.

He was very friendly and an overall playful guy who loved to interact with people. It was a joy to care for and learn from him and I will miss him greatly."

Nakai's death leaves the marine park with eight killer whales, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. announced in 2016 that orcas would no longer be bred at its parks following an order by the California Coastal Commission and dropping attendance since the 2013 release of the documentary "Blackfish," about Tilikum, an orca who spent most of his life at SeaWorld Orlando.

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