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October 18, 2010 / V A Nichols

Sea World ‘produces’ a new orca

An orca (slave) is born: Aren’t you happy?

The number of deaths in captivity is horrifying, but not unexpected

By Diane McNally, Times Colonist October 17, 2010
Tillikum, seen here at Sea World in  Orlando, Fla., was captured near Iceland and was once kept in Oak  Bay.

 

Photograph by: Reuters, Times Colonist

Please don’t think this is good news: A baby orca was born on Oct. 9 to Katina, a 34-year-old orca in Sea World Orlando. This is her seventh baby.

She was first pregnant (with a daughter) at eight, something that never happens in the wild where they mature at 15. That daughter died last month. As Katina approached the birth of her seventh child, she watched her first-born’s body lifted from the tiny pool that is their home.

We’ve all heard of puppy mills. Katina is used to replenish the performing stock for Sea World, as female dogs do in puppy mills, while Tillikum, captured from Iceland and once kept in Oak Bay, is isolated in a back pool as a living sperm bank.

Four orcas have died in captivity in Sea World in the last four months: Kalina, Katina’s first-born; Sumar, a male of 12; and Taima, 21, along with her unborn offspring, in labour.

The list of orca deaths in captivity in North America since Wanda died after two days’ captivity in California in 1961 and since Moby Doll was harpooned off Saturna Island and towed into captivity in Burrard drydock in 1964 is horrifying.

The worldwide number of deaths in captivity stands at 155.

The deaths are always reported as “unexpected,” but if you take into account orca intelligence, family ties and culture, none of the deaths is unexpected. They all die young, except for Lolita Tokitae in the Miami Seaquarium, captive for 40 years (a southern resident of L pod and a native of these waters) and Corky, captive for 41 years in Sea World San Diego (a member of Northern Resident A5 pod, from the north B.C. coast).

Orcas’ lifespans in the wild are similar to ours. Granny (a.k.a. J2) is 99 and swims by Victoria frequently, leading her family. Her brain is bigger than yours or mine. Her memories are extreme.

Katina’s baby will have a life of limitation and boredom, knowing there must be more and never to feel the ocean in a storm, the slide of kelp over skin while playing “kelping” with friends and siblings, the taste of fat chinook salmon fresh caught after a chase or see the bright anemones in sunlit water. This baby’s home will be a barren concrete tank.

Orcas captured from the wild can be released, with a science-based program of support. Captive-bred orcas may not have much chance of success in the wild, though release has not been tried. Wild capture has been banned in North America but still takes place in other waters. However, captive breeding goes on.

This is a plea to tell your children why you are not going to see an orca or dolphin show as you plan your next holiday. Children are sensitive to injustice.

Their tears will fall like rain in the water of the orca prison as the baby born in the water looks up at them and wonders “Is this all there is?”

Please help Orca Network (orcanetwork.org) to bring Lolita Tokitae home and help end this atrocious industry based on animal abuse. Don’t buy a ticket.

Diane McNally of Victoria treasures her certificate from the Friday Harbor Whale Museum’s naturalist training program and has been following orca research for a long time.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist
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