SeaWorld Orca Dies in Spain

An infant female orca by the name of Vicky has died at the Loro Parque amusement park in the Canary Islands, park officials announced today on their Facebook page.

Vicky, just 10 months old, had been rejected by her mother Kohana, a young orca who was ripped from her own mother’s side at just 19 months of age, and eventually shipped off to Tenerife.

“In contrast with joy with which Loro Parque announced the birth of the second baby orca in Spain, last August 3rd, today with enormous regret we inform you of the sad demise of Vicky, who with so much emotion and affection, the team of OrcaOcean cared for in her 10 months of life,” Loro Parque’s Facebook page says.

The death was sudden and the cause unknown, though Vicky had been showing unusual behaviors in recent days, according to the post. It was serious enough to fly in SeaWorld’s chief veterinarian to perform an examination.

The orcas at Loro Parque all belong to SeaWorld, and are cared for and trained according to SeaWorld protocols. In 2006, the company flew four young whales—two females, Kohana and Skyla, and two males, Keto and Tekoa—to Spain on a “breeding loan.”

About two years later Kohana, at just six years of age, (extremely young for an orca) was impregnated and, in 2010, gave birth to a male calf named Adan. All orcas born at Loro Parque are the legal property of SeaWorld.

Kohana, however, was an utterly unfit a mother and she wanted nothing to do with Adan, rejecting him almost immediately.

Many critics speculated that Kohana had simply never learned how to be a mother, because there were no mother orcas at Loro Parque for her to emulate. It didn’t help matters that Kohana only spent 22 months with her own mother before being taken away.

Even as Adan was being hand-nursed by park staff, Kohana became pregnant again, this time with Vicky. The father in both pregnancies was Keto, who is Kohana’s uncle, making Adan and Vicky more inbred orcas to add to SeaWorld’s “collection.” One whale was impregnated by her own son. According to bloodline charts, Vicky was related to 21 out of 26 SeaWorld killer whales.

Last year, when Vicky was born, Kohana, again immediately rejected her calf. The double-tragedy was covered beautifully by Elizabeth Batt at Digital Journal.

I have been studying killer whales intensively for about three years, and have never heard of a mother rejecting her calf in the wild. It is virtually unimaginable. But in my book Death at SeaWorld, I document several cases of maternal rejection in captivity.

TakePart has written about Loro Parque in the past, including this article about the female orca Morgan who, after stranding in the Netherlands, was sent to Tenerife and is now listed on SeaWorld’s stock offering as belonging to them.

And last December, in another piece about park, TakePart reported that, “Advocates were aghast at the trans-Atlantic arrangement. Killer whales, whether in the ocean or a crowded pool, are highly socialized animals who learn from elders about proper norms of behavior. Mothers, grandmothers and older siblings keep youngsters in check, and extinguish outbursts of disharmony that disrupt cohesion and proper pod functioning.”

“These whales are so young, without a normal upbringing, and now they’re in Spain together without any sort of adult orca supervision,’ one observer said. ‘It’s like Lord of the Flies over there.’”

It’s not clear if Kohana’s rejection of Vicky, or her inbreeding, contributed to her death (50 percent of wild-born orcas do not survive their first year). But it’s just another sad mark on the history and reputation of Loro Parque.

As I wrote in my book, at least one trainer was deeply concerned about the whales, and the way that Kohana’s uncle, Keto, kept trying to breed with her.

The trainer, Alex Martinez, turned to his personal diary to describe his growing worries about the erratic behavior. The whales’ seemingly bottomless sex drives were on the verge of upending the fragile social order imposed upon the hormonally charged adolescents.

“Keto is obsessed with controlling Kohana, he won’t separate from her, including shows,” Martinez wrote. Tekoa was also “very sexual when he is alone with Kohana.”

A few months later, Keto would “go off behavior” and brutally ram Martinez in the chest, killing him. Just two months after that, Dawn Brancheau would be mortally wounded in a similar fashion at SeaWorld Florida by the three-time killer, Tilikum, who happens to be grandfather to Kohana and great-grandfather to her two hapless children, one of them now tragically gone.

 

About David Kirby

DAVID KIRBY is the author of 'Evidence of Harm,' which was a New York Times bestseller, winner of the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) award for best book, and a finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism, and 'Animal Factory,' an acclaimed investigation into the environmental impact of factory farms which NPR compared to Upton Sinclair’s classic work 'The Jungle.' His latest book, 'Death at SeaWorld,' was previewed by Library Journal, which wrote: “Lives are at stake here, and Kirby can be trusted to tell the story, having won a passel of awards for his investigate work.” Booklist called the book “gripping” and “hard to put down.”
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