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SeaWorld Shenanigans

A custody battle over a captive orca

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T is for Transient

Luna the Orca Who Wanted to Be Friends

Orcas on Vacation


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SeaWorld Shenanigans

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Behind the Scenes at the Orca Meet-Up

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Center for Whale Research

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Saturday, July 16th, 8 a.m.: Jeff Ventre has just picked up a report from the Toronto Star about the very unseemly custody battle going on between SeaWorld and the Canadian circus Marineland over orca Ikaika.

Jeff, a physician, was once a SeaWorld trainer, so he knows a lot of what goes on behind the scenes – especially the cover-ups that these marine circuses engage in. The article in today’s Toronto Star explains how, 10 years ago, SeaWorld and Marineland set up a mutual breeding program. And it gives some insight into the grotesque wheeling and dealing with the lives of animals whom they each claim to “own”:

Holer (owner of Marineland) wanted a male killer whale. But how much was one worth? About four belugas, which Busch (owner of SeaWorld) wanted. According to court documents, a beluga is worth $50,000. Holer only wanted to give up three. Busch demanded four, but would later toss in two trained sea lions. And the deal was done.

Then Ikaika is flown from SeaWorld Orlando to Marineland in Niagara Falls. He already has dental problems, most likely from chewing on the metal bars of his pool, and he needs daily treatment along with ongoing antibiotics and pain medication. (Such problems don’t exist in the wild.) At Marineland, Ikaika’s teeth just get worse, and SeaWorld thinks they can give him better care, so they want him back. But Marineland doesn’t want to give him up.

As part of the pressure SeaWorld is mounting on Marineland, they offer some unusually candid remarks about the dangers of keeping these huge animals captive. As the Star describes it:

SeaWorld continues to fret about Ikaika’s mental health. The whale has had to be separated from his female companion — Kiska, 37 — 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,” Chuck Tompkins, a senior executive at SeaWorld and head animal trainer, said in an affidavit.

Those are signs Ikaika is testing his environment and seeing what he can do, Tompkins told the court.

“And if you’re not aware of all the little things that killer whales do, you can get somebody really, really hurt,” Tompkins said in his affidavit. “I’ve got grave concerns on the safety of the staff and inevitably the safety of the animal because of the lack of change.”

In all its public statements and PR, SeaWorld goes out of its way to say how safe the marine circuses are. But to get Ikaika back to Orlando, they need to explain what the real problems are – including that someone could get seriously hurt by an angry, frustrated orca with dental pain, who needs a constant supply of antibiotics and pain medication, along with sedatives to keep him from going completely ballistic.

Next: Hugs and Goodbyes