Killer whales live in all oceans, both tropical and polar. These large mammals have blunt, rounded snouts and high black dorsal fins. The jet black head and back contrast sharply with the white underbelly. Usually, a white patch can be seen behind and above the eye. Killer whales are usually observed in packs of 3 to 40 animals. They have powerful jaws, great weight, speed, and interlocking teeth. Because of their speed and carnivorous habits, these animals should be treated with great respect. There have been no recorded attacks in the wild upon humans.
When killer whales are spotted, all diving personnel should immediately leave the water. Extreme caution should be observed on shore areas, piers, barges, ice floes, etc., when killer whales are in the area.
First Aid and Treatment.
- Bites may result in significant bleeding and tissue loss. Take immediate action to control bleeding using large pressure bandages. Cover wounds with layers of compressive bandages preferably made with gauze, but easily made from shirts or towels, and held in place by wrapping the wound tightly with gauze, torn clothing, towels, or sheets. Direct pressure with elevation or sufficient compression on “pressure points” over major arteries will hopefully control all but the most serious bleeding. These pressure points are the radial artery pulse point for the hand; above the elbow under the biceps muscle for the forearm (brachial artery); and the groin area with deep finger-tip or heel-of-the-hand pressure for bleeding from the leg (femoral artery). When bleeding cannot be immediately controlled by direct pressure and elevation or by compressing pressure points, a tourniquet should be used to save the victim’s life even though there is the possibility of loss of the limb if the application exceeds a duration of 2-4 hours. Do not remove the tourniquet. It should be removed only by a physician in a hospital setting. Loosening a tourniquet prematurely may cause further shock by allowing recurrent bleeding.
- Treat for low blood pressure (in the extreme, for shock) by laying the victim down and elevating his feet.
- If medical personnel are available, begin intravenous (IV) Ringer’s lactate or normal saline solution with a large-bore catheter (16 or 18 gauge). If blood loss has been extensive, several liters should be infused rapidly. The victim’s color, pulse, and blood pressure should be used as a guide to the volume of fluid required. Maintain the airway and administer high flow oxygen by face mask. Do not give fluids by mouth. If the victim’s cardiovascular state is stable, narcotics may be administered in small incremental doses for pain relief. Observe closely for evidence of depressed respirations due to the use of narcotics.
- Initial stabilization procedures should include attention to the airway, breathing, and circulation, followed by a complete evaluation of the victim for multiple traumas
- Transport the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible. The goal is to treat hemorrhage with blood transfusions. Reassure the victim
- Should a severed limb be retrieved, wrap it in bandages, moisten with saline, place in a plastic bag and chill, but do not put the limb in direct contact with ice. Transport the severed limb with the victim.
- Clean and debride wounds as soon as possible in a hospital or other controlled environment. Operative exploration should be performed to locate and remove dislodged teeth.
- Perform X-ray evaluation to evaluate bone damage. Severe crush injury may result in acute renal failure due to myoglobin released from injured muscle. Monitor closely for kidney function and adjust IV fluid therapy appropriately.
- Administer tetanus prophylaxis: tetanus toxoid, 0.5 ml intramuscular (IM) and tetanus immune globulin, 250 to 400 units IM.
- Culture infected wounds for both aerobes and anaerobes before instituting broad spectrum antibiotic coverage; infections with Clostridium or Vibrio species have been reported. Consider administering an antibiotic, such as ciprofloxacin, for acute Killer Whale bite wounds to prevent Vibrio infection.
- Acute surgical repair and reconstructive surgery may be necessary.
- In cases of unexplained decrease in mental status or other neurological signs and symptoms following Killer Whale attack while diving, consider arterial gas embolism or decompression sickness as a possible cause.
Source: US Navy Diving Manual