Collision blamed in Brookfield Zoo dolphin death

September 6, 2011 (BROOKFIELD, Ill.)

"Nea," a 4-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin died Monday afternoon following a collision with another dolphin.

Zoo staff says that dolphins, especially young ones line Nea, like to roughhouse and can be rambunctious when they play. Nea's trainers say it was her playful energy that made them fall in love with her.

Instead of the usual seven performing dolphins Brookfield Zoo, now there are six. The youngest, a 4-year old female named Nea, died Monday in a freak accident.

Zoo staff says Nea died after colliding with another dolphin. The accident happened Monday, just before the dolphins were to perform in the zoo's 1 p.m. show.

No one saw what happened, but the trainers heard a loud pop.

"The staff heard the sound, and immediately responded and saw she was in need, and within seconds had her in the medical pool," said Brookfield Zoo's Rita Stacey.

But Nea could not be revived. A necropsy indicates she suffered a fractured skull resulting from a collision with another animal, not a hard, fixed object.

The other dolphin was not hurt.

Nea came to the zoo a year ago, but bonded quickly with her trainers, who say she was playful and full of energy.

It's a devastating loss for the staff and for our zoo and for anyone who had a relationship with her," said Stacey.

"In order to do the type of things they do, that bond is tight. So it's like the loss of a young child," said Brookfield Zoo's Bill Zeigler.

The rest of Monday's dolphin shows were cancelled but resumed Tuesday.

The trainers also have one-on-one time with the dolphins, as they do every day, but Tuesday there was a lot of emphasis on making sure they are adjusting to Nea's loss as well.

The zoo says they are not planning to replace Nea. Instead they are focusing on one of the dolphins that is pregnant and will give birth in the fall.

Grief counselors were brought in for the trainers who were devastated by Nea's death.

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