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SeaWorld vs Marineland. Killer Whale Ikaika Caught in International Custody Battle

July 18, 2011

Ikaika at Marineland, Canada in a recent photo by the Toronto Star. Click on photo to watch a video of Ike and Kiska interacting.

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).

Click on image to read the full court decision.

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, 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, 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.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2016 11:08 pm

    I wanna say this is crazy orcas in captivity need orca companionship. Kiska, kshamenk and Lolita need to be united with orcas. Kamangawa SeaWorld needs a male orca so they need to get Mundo Marino to export kshamenk over to kamongawa SeaWorld in place of Oscar and Bingo that passed away. Kiska needs to be transferred to marineland Antibes so she can unite with the other orcas and have larger room, she’d be happy again. Lolita needs to be moved to SeaWorld Orlando to retire from Miami Seaquarium. Lolita would be part of a new orca show but she’d have new orca companionship but have a natural surroundings. They need to unite all orcas with orca companionship.

  2. June 1, 2013 6:43 pm

    Hi Dear, are you really visiting this website on a regular basis, if so after that you will absolutely
    get nice experience.

  3. June 1, 2013 9:16 am

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post!
    It is the little changes that produce the largest changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. OrcaLuvr'09 permalink
    January 22, 2013 6:40 pm

    Nice that you called us idiots…

  5. November 13, 2011 12:55 am

    Juno doesn’t do that out of aggression- one he learned if from Kela- Kela does the exact same thing and does it because she gets a reaction. 2- he gets attention and feedback from the guests so he continues to do it. Juno is used in the beluga contact program and other then trainers if anyone knows him well its me. I have spent countless hours playing with Juno. Have you seen a real jaw pop? if not you have no idea what it really is. I have seen it- and yes it is LOUD- you can hear it through the glass and at no time have I EVER heard him Jaw Pop- he is just opening and closing his mouth. there is no popping there- and yes they do jaw pop on command too- its another way I have seen and heard it.

    Ikaika was moved to a Sea World park TONIGHT we will know in the AM what park he went to. You can’t free him- and MLC isn’t the best place for him OR any orca for that matter. Lets hope that the court docs. are correct that the belugas were a sale not a loan- so they stay where they are. and as for Mystic it is one of the largest outdoor exhibits in the USA. They have only 4 whales- and all are happy healthy and loving life- Mystic does not have a high death rate. in fact 2 of their females are 30 (almost 31) years old. Inuk died of Kidney failure yes, but that happens in the wild- at least he was in a place that TRIED to save him. Inuk was a very pretty whale and a loving whale.

    So get your facts straight- Juno is not being aggressive- he is playing- he SEEKS OUT to play at the glass and often times you don’t need to be doing ANYTHING for him to come play. He isn’t jaw popping and is a very happy juvenile Beluga. I hope he stays at a place that isn’t so over crowded with belugas that they have belugas in THE ORCA Tank (seperated) and has the best care available. and no I am not pro cap but I am not anti cap. I seem to have a level head on my shoulders- I would rather see them alive then dead. I do not live by the better off dead ideals.

  6. Tori permalink
    September 10, 2011 8:29 pm

    No wonder the beluga is getting pissed off. If those brats hadn’t been pounding on the glass and teasing him like that, he might not have gotten so annoyed. I think humans are the problem here. Keep your kids in check, people.

  7. Andrew Randrianasulu permalink
    September 3, 2011 6:43 pm

    @ LAT, well you put your exaggerations first, so you need to defend it with data.

    No _formal_ experience for me, yes. (Note _formal_ bit). But this doesn’t mean i can’t read and think (and of course i can ask few people to check me). My name and soname is real, you will find few references to my persona… starting from around 2004. Your nick gives me nothing, so – unfair.

  8. LAT permalink
    September 3, 2011 5:30 pm

    2 andrew

    before i even waste time arguing with you i would like to know your credentials. do you actually have experience working with animals or just someone who has read some books an literature from anti captivity groups, which are mostly base on lies or exagerations?

  9. Andrew Randrianasulu permalink
    August 28, 2011 1:19 pm

    2LAT ….

    Living creature without aggression simply impossible here, and you need to spend much LESS than 10 years with said creature ….. One can misinterpret someone’s movements, but only up to point..and not after.Only way to ALWAYS interpret beluga’s behavior as playing – always look at interactions from safe distance, and blink your eyes in all important moments…

    Half of animals .. saved due to zoos?! Write down first your national Red List, then count all species in you country zoos, calculate how many of them endangered, and how many from those were successfully restored (not merely doomed to very artificial life in some cage – but re-homed their past home range and can again live their lives independently from humans) … then come back with numbers! And exact examples …

    If you care to read around – you will find what actually anti-captivity people MUCH more concerned about environment (because they hoped to give real world back to all those enslaved creatures, full and healthy), while pro-captivity folks tend to underestimate hazards, because they have so perfect (perfect in their imagination only) system of saving animals in captivity …..

  10. LAT permalink
    August 28, 2011 12:12 pm

    Yet again the news papers dont get the facts right, they just love to print anti captivity articles without fully looking into their facts. What juno is actually doing is squirting water at the guest, not “jaw popping”.This is not an act of aggression, this is one of the ways belugas play with the general public. belugas are extremely playful and dosil animals and they love to squirt at people, either under water or above water. I worked with belugas for 10 years and never once saw aggression towards people. they are all about the playing. as for the pro captivity thing, i totally agree with it, if it wasn’t for zoos and aquariums half of the of animals in the world would be extinct. As humans we have destroyed their natural environments have left them nothing for them to live in. Think about it. Its so easy to view that stats of mortality in captivity because they are tracked, but what about the stats in wild. they are way worse but yet no one seems to care….

  11. Kath permalink
    July 19, 2011 4:41 pm

    @Beth… I love it!!

  12. Andrew Randrianasulu permalink
    July 19, 2011 2:41 am

    Marineland Canada …. I was looking into their files at and, found one whale who survived for ~12 years after birth – Neocia / Baby October.

    Anyway, captivity really sucked their lives out of their bodies…

    • July 19, 2011 7:29 pm

      You are correct Andrew. Neocia (Baby October) was born to Nootka 5 and survived 11 years, 9 months. Her “longevity” was included in the statistic of the average age of 3.6 years for orcas that were born at and died at Marineland prior to Ike being shipped there. The others died much younger.

      Nootka also gave birth to “Splash” in 1989, who survived to the age of 15… but not at Marineland. He was taken from his mother at the age of 2 and sent to SeaWorld San Antonio. He died of Acute Perforating Gastric Ulceration with associated Peritonitis in 2005.

      Yet, SeaWorld contends it does whatever i$ in the best interest of the orcas. Sad.

  13. July 18, 2011 11:35 pm

    Great article TOP. Thank you for pointing out the contradictory language used by the marine parks. On one hand they discredit the language when it refers to their whales and practices. On the other, they use the same language to leverage back their animals when needed. For example SW uses concerns over “elevated white blood cell counts” with IKE to say he is mistreated, but fails to mention that Tilikum, and most whales with broken teeth experience this leukocytosis and bacteremia chronically. Tilikum had elevated WBC’s and was being treated with antibiotics the day he pulled DB into the water and killed her. Predictably, no mention of that in the rationale to get Ike back. Great post.

  14. July 18, 2011 6:38 pm

    Can you remove my photo from this article? I don’t really appreciate you cropping my photo and cutting out my watermark without my permission.


    • July 19, 2011 8:35 am

      Thank you for alerting us to this Jennifer. That photo has been removed.

    • Kath permalink
      July 19, 2011 8:49 am

      Ugh… pro cap…..

      • Bonnie permalink
        July 22, 2011 11:16 am

        Excuse you but she has every right to not let someone use her photos without premission.

        • Kath permalink
          July 22, 2011 11:29 am

          If she would be taking photos for the right reasons instead of pushing the captive crap .. she would have been proud for someone to use her photo…. but since the photo was put to good use in telling the truth about these hell holes she had a problem…. keeping these animals captive is not cool no matter how you look at it… they are dead way before their time… you you pro caps are the cause… hope you sleep well at night……

      • July 22, 2011 10:31 pm

        Yes, I am a pro cap. I proud pro cap actually. So deal with it. As a photographer, I don’t appreciate my images being used without my permission. And thanks, I will sleep well tonight. 🙂

        • Kath permalink
          July 23, 2011 6:39 am

          @Jennifer.. get over yourself…. the photo was not that great… it did however show the horrible shape their teeth are in from the drilling for no reason.. THAT is the only reason you did not want your photo used…. you thought you took a pretty picture.. and what you did is provide more evidence against the captive crap…..

  15. beth permalink
    July 18, 2011 9:36 am

    put those kids in a tank and have people bang on the glass all day long ..see how they like it… better yet put them in the tank with the beluga …revenge is sweet

    • beth permalink
      July 22, 2011 1:54 pm

      whats with the thumbs down? must be the pro captivity idiots

      • Kath permalink
        July 22, 2011 1:58 pm

        Beth… LOL …. I am having a problem with voting.. I vote and then it goes away?

  16. Kath permalink
    July 18, 2011 7:54 am

    If that Beluga ever gets a hold of a kid…….. I notice some places have encounters wih them…..that would be their chance….. All this captive crap needs to stop…. it just makes me ill how they pound on the glass and make fun if them… I hope they grow up to learn the truth and become part if the solution not continue with being the problem……


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