Dear Friends of Lolita,
Bjossa 'gravely ill' in San Diego
Vancouver Sun, Tuesday 21 August 2001
Note: Bjossa is a 23-year-old female orca dying at Sea World from infections against which she presents little or no defenses. She was moved from Vancouver Aquarium in April this year because it was impossible to purchase a companion for her despite three years searching.
Bjossa had a good appetite on her arrival at Sea World but that has changed. She has stopped eating and her trainers are alarmed.
Bjossa, Vancouver's favourite killer whale, is "gravely ill" and has not been responding to treatment for a recurrent lung infection, a spokesman for San Diego's SeaWorld said Tuesday.
Bob Tucker said the prognosis is "not good" for the 25-year-old orca, despite round-the-clock medical care and visits from her former trainer, Brian Sheehan, who worked with her when she performed at the Vancouver Aquarium.
"She's hung on pretty well, but in the last few days things have not been looking good. She hasn't been eating and has displayed listless behaviour," said Tucker, adding that the whale normally consumes about 45 kilograms of fish each day.
SeaWorld veterinarians will keep a constant watch on their new addition and are trying to stay positive.
"We're just hoping for the best, and we're not giving up by any means," Tucker said.
Bjossa lived at the Vancouver Aquarium from 1980 until earlier this year. Left without the company of other whales when her partner, Finna, died in 1997, she was transferred in April to SeaWorld because a companion could not be found for her here.
But the move from Vancouver had nothing to do with the flare-up of what amounts to a chronic condition, Tucker said.
"She just really blew everyone away with her rapid social adjustment to her new surroundings, but she just never came out of this illness, so medically, her health has always been a concern and never saw any improvement."
Tuesday morning, SeaWorld veterinarians transferred Bjossa from a public pool to a private, intensive-care pool in the back of the aquarium.
"That was an indication of how concerned the veterinarians here are about her condition. They want to be in an area where they can closely monitor her and access her quickly if they have to," Tucker said.
Bjossa became ill last week, when Tucker said she stopped responding to her trainers, lost her appetite and spent more time swimming near the pool's surface.
Bjossa weighs about 2,500 kg, and her sheer size makes it difficult to determine what is causing the infection, said Clint Wright, vice-president of operations for the Vancouver Aquarium.
"It's very difficult to even pinpoint exactly what's going on inside her. Something like an ultrasound, in a person, you can get a good look at the lungs, but with a whale, because their lungs are so huge and their body is so immense, it's extremely difficult to get a good picture. It's really a bit of a guessing game."
Bjossa fell ill with the lung infection in March 2000, but seemed to recover. This time, the problem is lasting longer and seems less responsive to treatment, Wright said.
Sheehan and Wright travelled to San Diego last week when they first heard Bjossa was ill, but saw her health take a quick upswing. Confident she would recover, Wright said he returned to Vancouver. On Sunday, Bjossa began to get worse, and Wright will return to the tourist park today.
Aquarium staff were pleased with her progress in California, Wright said. "She looked like she was having a great time down in San Diego. She seemed to be doing very well. She started putting on weight and we were very happy with the whole thing. It seemed like it was a great decision to move her there." Although he called Bjossa's condition a "blow" to staff of both facilities, Wright agreed the transfer was not responsible.
"I really don't believe it has anything to do with the move. She was in good shape to move, and if there was anything associated with the move, it would have showed up early on, but in fact, she did really well."
But Annelise Sorg, director of the Coalition for No Whales in Captivity, said she believes that the Vancouver aquarium sent Bjossa to SeaWorld to die.
"They really pawned her on SeaWorld in her last months of life," Sorg said. "I think they wanted to avoid the public relations nightmare that the death of Bjossa would cause in Vancouver."
Sorg said the whale lost three babies and two mates during her life in Vancouver, then endured a traumatic move and the loss of her companion, a dolphin named Whitewings.
"Her life has been a tragedy one after another," Sorg said.