SeaWorld Wants Their Whale Back From Marineland, Why?

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Ikaika performing at Marineland, Ontario (Courtesy

On Tuesday, the Ontario Court of Justice ruled that SeaWorld has the right to demand the return of a young male orca, Ikaika, that they sent to the Ontario Marineland in 2006 on breeding loan – but Marineland is appealing the decision. A second agreement states that Marineland gets to keep the young whale for the duration of his life;  however the breeding loan contains provisions that allow for the contract to be broken with 30 days notice if the animal is not properly cared for – and SeaWorld claims that it has been concerned about the welfare of Ikaika since 2009. Marineland defends the care given, and disputes the right of SeaWorld to take the whale back under the provisions of the second agreement.
While on the face of it SeaWorld appears to have only the best interest of the orca at heart, there are some huge holes in their story. For starters, SeaWorld must have known exactly what the conditions were at Marineland when they sent Ikaika there five years ago, and reports say that not much has changed. Also, at that time they removed the then four year old Ikaika from his mother (in the wild, orca families stay together for life) and sent him out of the country on “breeding loan”, but male orcas don’t reach puberty until 12 or 13 year of age, and are not fully mature until their late teens/early twenties – so Marineland has basically raised the whale to this point and clearly could not breed him.
And while the courts must make their decisions based on the wording of contracts, what about the needs of the orcas involved? Ikaika has bonded with Kiska, the only other orca at the Ontario Marineland, so separating them will leave the adult female Kiska alone, and Ikaika will have to start all over again in a new place, unless he is returned to his original family at the Orlando, Florida, SeaWorld.
But this is where the story gets interesting, because Ikaika is the offspring of female Katina, and the tragic male Tilikum who has attacked and killed three people, including trainer Dawn Brancheau last year.  Returning Ikaika to his family would inevitably result in inbreeding when Ikaika becomes mature.

So what fate awaits Ikaika if SeaWorld gets him back?  My guess is that he faces the same life that Tilikum has had, to be an isolated and lonely sperm bank for SeaWorld’s captive breeding program. SeaWorld’s treatment of Tilikum has been abominable (for an excellent review of Tilikum’s conditions, read Seeing is Believing: Tilikum’s lonely life after Dawn by The Orca Project), and he is treated like some kind of Hannibal Lecter animal…one that has to be coaxed by human hands into giving up sperm.  It is kind of twisted, if you think about it.
Which is better for Ikaika?  A stable, albeit tired and small home with an unrelated female orca with whom he can live and breed, or life in a newer amusement park, but facing a life as a sperm donor?
Ikaika (Uploaded to TripAdvisor)

To get an idea of how the two amusement parks compare, I read through current experiences at TripAdvisor and tried to find comparable reviews, and have included remarks from them below to help you evaluate the parks (complete reviews can be found by following the links). Also check out for information on captive orcas.
Marineland, remarks from Trip Advisor:

3 of 5 stars Reviewed 14 June 2011

I hadn’t been to Marineland since I was little myself, and it was definitely a weird feeling going back. Felt like I was stepping right into my old photo album, because so much was exactly the same.

…From there it was on to Friendship Cove and Arctic Cove, the areas where the orcas and the beluga whales are kept in a large, open tank. We were just in time for a “splash session”, where an orca was doing tricks for the crowd. The belugas were doing an odd thing, popping up out of the water like whack-a-mole. I’m not sure what their motivation was, whether it was friendly curiosity or something else, but it was so weird to have a whale pop out of the water to look at you from a distance of about 3 feet. But then it started to rain again.
We decided to get a hand-stamp, and returned later in the day. I was charmed by the whole beluga thing and decided to pay for an “experience” for me and my daughter. For $8.50CDN you stand in line and wait for a trainer to motion you right up to the side of the tank while they bring one of the belugas up to touch and interact with. Ours was a small grayish female named Aurora and my daughter was absolutely thrilled with her. We pat-patted her cold, slippery dome and my daughter held out fish for her, and the photos my mother took made the whole visit completely worthwhile. It was worth the extra cost to be able to be so near such a beautiful creature, even for only a few minutes.
However, I did notice that many of the belugas had large, ugly gashes. When I mentioned this to the trainer, she said that the thunderstorm had spooked them and that they had scraped their heads on rocks in the tank. She said, “It’s ok, they have tough skin”. But the skin was cut all the way through, with pink flesh showing underneath. I felt horrible for them.
We went on to the front half of the deer park (didn’t do the whole loop) and saw the koi ponds and the bears. We got a lot of nice pictures, although by this time I had a lot of Free Willy guilt going on in my head.
In general, when the animals’ caretakers talked, it was more like someone describing an exotic pet. There wasn’t a real strong conservation message, like “Look how beautiful they are, and this is why we need to make sure they’re safe in the wild.” It was more, “Sea lions have ears and seals don’t, and look how high this dolphin can jump.” Which is also a very seventies-eighties mentality, if you think about it, so maybe they just haven’t updated that either.
In the end, my daughter went home with memories of how much she loved that beluga whale, and she went home with an inflatable beluga and a crazy-expensive beluga t-shirt from the gift shop. So maybe those memories will nurture some sort of environmental responsibility later on.

As far as snack bars and restaurants and gift shops…half of them were closed during our visit. The gift shop we went to, under the dolphin pavilion, was very expensive and also staffed by dour, surly employees. One character who was all over the shop was conspicuously absent in the park. Marineland’s mascot, a walrus in regal attire, was nowhere to be seen…real or in walkabout plush mascot form.

Seaworld, remarks from Trip Advisor

Reviewed 26 May 2011

  • Visited April 2011
2 of 5 stars Reviewed 21 June 2011

We were very disappointed with our visit to SeaWorld Orlando and found it to be overpriced and over-hyped. $80 per adult gives you only access to general public attractions, scheduled shows, countless souvenir shops, and horrible tasting water at the few drinking fountains. We are a fit couple, but if endless walking from show to show and waiting/planning for each show schedule amidst screaming children for a whopping $80 bucks is your idea of a good time, then SeaWorld is the place for you.

…Was there anything good about SeaWorld Orlando? Yes, the animals are amazing creatures and we loved the Stingray Lagoon where you could touch the amazing Stingrays for FREE. But even that is not worth $80 per adult admission. SeaWorld Orlando was a very disappointing and expensive experience.

“Shamu Who?”
What’s my point? If you missed the show where trainers entered the water with Tillikum, you have lost one of the greatest exhibitions of animal training ever to be seen. Now you have to settle for being splashed by him as he swoops around in his tank like a spastic goldfish. It’s sad! And it’s degrading for this magnificent creature.

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