The youngest of Brookfield Zoo’s seven dolphins died Monday in what zoo officials called a “freak accident,” apparently as a result of a fractured skull from a collision with another dolphin.
The accident happened just before Nea, a 4-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was due to perform in the zoo’s 1 p.m. show.
No one saw what happened, but her trainers heard a loud pop and jumped into the water. They found Nea unresponsive and attempted CPR. Veterinary staff arrived within 10 minutes to assist, but they were not able revive the dolphin.
Preliminary results of an animal autopsy performed later Monday indicated a fractured skull. Zoo experts believe that Nea received her fatal injuries from colliding with another dolphin rather than a hard fixed object, which would have caused scrapes or bruises.
“We checked for all those signs, and there was absolutely nothing else there,” said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal care and collections. “So whatever she hit, it was a soft object. It wasn’t the side of a pool which would be hard. That kind of abrasion would have shown up.”
Five of the seven dolphins are younger, Zeigler said. “They’re like a bunch of kids running around. We just think they happened to collide.”
Nea’s death “devastated” the workers who cared for her, said Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals.
“She was a wonderful animal to work with. Anybody who had worked with her just instantly fell in love with her. She was a very fun-loving, very cooperative animal. She always wanted to work with and play with the trainers,” Stacey said.
Shows were canceled but will resume Tuesday.