SeaWorld vs Marineland. Killer Whale Ikaika Caught in International Custody Battle
(UPDATED NOVEMBER, 2011):
Ikaika, a 4,000 pound (1,815 kg), 17 foot (5.2 m) killer whale is at the center of an international custody battle reminiscent of the tragedies that often befall (human) children caught in the middle of a complex system of laws, broken trust, self-interest and money.
Last week, a Superior Court Judge in Ontario, Canada ruled against Marineland of Canada, Inc (MOC) who is seeking to retain possession of Ikaika “Ike” who was on a breeding loan to the Niagara Falls marine park from SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, LLC (SW) in the U.S.
In his conclusion on July 7, 2011, The Honorable Justice R.A. Lococo ordered Marineland “to co-operate in any way reasonably necessary to allow the safe and expeditious transport of Ikaika from Canada to the United States.”
Marineland has announced it will appeal the courts decision.
UPDATE- NOVEMBER 12, 2011: After MarineLand of Canada exhausted all legal avenues to prevent the transfer of Ikaika back to SeaWorld, Ike was transferred to SeaWorld of SanDiego. Read more and watch a video of his transfer HERE. With his move, a female orca named Kiska is left behind becoming 1 of 4 killer whales worldwide forced to live a life of solitude. A sad day indeed for these highly social and intelligent mammals which are known to spend their entire lives with their families in the wild.
When questioned about the court ruling, founder of Marineland, John Holer, 75, had had some rather unusual responses for Dylan Powell of the animal rights group Marineland Animal Defense . Watch below:
The Toronto Star also dug deep into this story, revealing SeaWorld’s claims to support their termination of the agreement which sent the 4 year-old orca from SeaWorld of Florida (SWF) to Marineland in November, 2006. SeaWorld stated “it had become concerned about Ikaika’s physical and psychological health if it remained at Marineland”. (Click HERE to read the full report by the Toronto Star).
Note: Many of the orca health and safety issues discussed in this article (ie; poor dental health, infection, bacteria, stress, breeding, compatability, agressive behavior, trainer safety, etc) are at the heart of The Orca Project’s mission to advise the public about killer whale captivity. Click on the highlighted links to go in-depth and learn more about these topics.
In the report at Star.com, documents from the civil suit filed in an Ontario Superior Court reveal the parks’ inner workings, the health of their whales and the big business behind marine mammal entertainment. They also detail the sex lives of killer whales as well as the psychology of Ikaika, now 8 years old and growing stronger every day.
Sworn affidavits show that Ikaika has had a chronic dental problem since his SW days that affects his behaviour:
“Ikaika’s problem is with the roots of various teeth in his mouth. These roots are open, allowing bacteria to enter and cause infections. The normal course of treatment is to flush his teeth consistently, numerous times daily, and treat him with antibiotics and pain medications” ~said Lanny Cornell, a veterinary consultant to Marineland.
SeaWorld vets remained concerned about Ikaika’s elevated white blood cell count, although it admitted in a May affidavit that Ikaika was now physically fine. Marineland’s veterinarians said the spiked white blood cell count was consistent with his previous dental infections, but SeaWorld said the white blood cell count “could be related to stress, among other things.”
SeaWorld also continues to fret about Ikaika’s mental health. The whale has had to be separated from his female companion Kiska, 36 because he would bite her.
Ikaika has a history of aggression, often of a sexual nature, which began with an attempt to breed a young calf at SeaWorld shortly before his transfer to Canada. SeaWorld’s veterinarians then sedated Ikaika twice daily with Valium to “try to mellow him out.”
“We’ve already seen some of the precursors (of a human attack) up there, meaning he’s grabbed boots, he’s grabbed targets, he’s grabbed an arm before. Those are signs Ikaika is testing his environment and seeing what he can do. And if you’re not aware of all the little things that killer whales do, you can get somebody really, really hurt. I’ve got grave concerns on the safety of the staff and inevitably the safety of the animal because of the lack of change.” ~ Chuck Tompkins, a senior executive at SeaWorld and head animal trainer told the courts.
Tompkins went on to say Marineland isn’t listening to SeaWorld’s advice. For example, he said, the Niagara Falls park didn’t have a net to neutralize a whale, if there was an incident, until SeaWorld sent them one. He would also like to see Marineland acquire a lift and scale to properly weigh the mammal to help with administering the correct drug dosages. He also suggested that Marineland needs an emergency plan should someone fall into the water.
Marineland’s veterinarians did not agree with SeaWorld’s assessment (and The Orca Project questions the adequacy of the safety provisions at SeaWorld’s own parks). But the biggest issue between them appears to be the breeding program itself.
“Ikaika and Kiska have not proven to be compatible for breeding purposes and to date, no offspring have been produced,” Jim McBain, a retired SeaWorld veterinarian, who has overseen Ikaika from Orlando, said in an affidavit.
But now the pair is copulating continuously, although it isn’t clear if either whale is fertile.
“For the past four months, there has been, for the first time, considerable sexual activity between the two. Killer whales generally reach sexual maturity between seven and nine years of age”… Cornell said.
In TheProvince.com, SeaWorld contends:
“We maintain an abiding interest in the welfare of our animals and do not hesitate to act in their best interest if we feel that a partner institution is not meeting its obligations in veterinary care, husbandry or training.”
But don’t be fooled by SeaWorld’s motives. Even though they claim to do what’s best for their orcas, Ikaika was taken from his mother Katina and father Tilikum in November, 2006 at the age of 4 and shipped off to Marineland of Canada from SeaWorld Orlando. According to an article by Candace Calloway Whiting in the Seattle PI, “in the wild, orca families stay together for life.”
Despite these strong natural maternal bonds, Ike’s separation was to be a lucrative deal to breed with Nootka V, a female orca with an abysmal birthing record at MOC. Between 1992 and 2006, prior to Ike’s arrival, Nootka gave birth to 6 orcas and also had two miscarriages. Her last miscarriage occurred just 6 months prior to his arrival. Not one of Nootka’s off-spring is alive today. Nootka herself died in 2008 of unknown causes.
This left the juvenile Ike to breed with the only surviving female orca at Marineland… a now 36 year-old Kiska who was also captured off the coast of Iceland in October 1979. She is estimated to be the same age as Ike’s mother Katina and has an equally appalling birth record as that of Nootka. Kiska has given birth to 5 calves, all sired by the now deceased male Kandu VII. Four of their five calves were deceased prior to Ike’s arrival. The oldest only survived to the age of 6. The fifth calf died at age 4 shortly after Ike arrived. None of Nootka’s calves are alive today. In fact, prior to SeaWorld’s decision to send Ike to Marineland, 9 killer whales that were born there all died with an average survival of only 3.6 years.
In the wild, male orcas live an average of 30+ yrs and females 50+ yrs (many can live well into their 80s or 90s) yet SeaWorld sent 4 year-old Ike to this Canadian facility despite of its poor record of young captive-born orca care.
And although SeaWorld’s orca longevity is slightly better than that of Marineland, they too have seen their share of death and tragedy… losing four orcas last year alone. There are presently only 42 orcas alive in captivity worldwide today.
And what about the “forgotten” animals involved in this breeding loan transaction? As part of the deal to send killer whale Ikaika to Marineland in 2006, four Beluga whales were traded to SeaWorld of Florida (3 in 2006 and another in 2008). Two trained Sealions were sent to Marineland from SWF in 2006 as part of the deal. As of May, 2009 the two SeaLions are still listed as alive at MOC by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (although NMFS record keeping is poor at best). Three of the belugas still reside at SeaWorld of Florida. However, Juno, a 9 year old male beluga, part of the 2006 transaction and transfer, has since been sent to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut on a breeding loan to replace the “aging” Inuk. The 29 year old Inuk died of kidney failure 1 month after Juno’s arrival. Although regarded as friendly and playful, in the video below, Juno displays aggressive behavior in the underwater viewing area in what is described as “jaw-popping” by a Marineland educator:
Another video shows similar behavior and the type of life Juno must endure every day:
Is SeaWorld concerned? Will they be seeking to take Juno out of Mystic and remove him from his life of aggressive behavior and obvious stress from visitor harassment? Our guess is no. The “real” money is with the orcas.
So, what happens to Ike now? Unfortunately, none of the right answers are on the table. Like most (human) custody battles, the children are caught in the middle and the outcomes are rarely pleasant. If allowed to stay at Marineland, Ike will continue his forced, unnatural breeding with Kiska and provide her with her only orca companionship. If sent back to a SeaWorld park, Kiska will become yet another victim of solitary confinement and Ike will be cast into another forced, unnatural family structure and undoubtedly continue to breed (naturally and/or artificially). Either way, he’ll live a life of confinement performing to the whims of the paying public and profitable marine park industry.
The time has come to stop breeding these amazing, intelligent creatures. End their confinement and exploitation. Return those that can be released back to the wild and/or transition them to a natural environment in sea-pens where they can live out their lives as best they can. They have already paid an incredible price.