*The opinions expressed in this blog were derived from speaking with experts in this field*
“On Behalf of Kiska, Ontario’s Lone Orca”
First, I would like to state that I am here today on behalf of Canada’s – and yes, it appears as though she will be Canada’s – last captive orca. Her name is Kiska. Bill 80 directly affects her – and it appears to have sentenced her to an indefinite lifetime of solitary confinement. Obviously, Kiska cannot speak for herself, so I am here to speak for her. If you plan to go forward with Bill 80, I feel something must be said for this lonely marine mammal who has given this province almost 40 years of her life, as an unwitting tourist attraction at Marineland. So, I am here for her, and I appreciate the time I’ve been given to do that. See Bill 80 (http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet&BillID=3213)
I would like to begin by thanking the provincial government for taking a major step in the right direction with regard to “banning orcas” within the province of Ontario. You have acknowledged that killer whales are highly intelligent, extremely emotional and incredibly social beings, which are naturally wide-ranging and deep diving. I thank you for that. However, while you have acknowledged these absolute facts, at the same time, you have also sentenced Kiska, to continue to live in isolation….in solitary confinement. This doesn’t make any logical sense to me, or to fellow Ontarians, or to the thousands of concerned people around the world who are asking the same question: “What about Kiska?”
You have consulted numerous experts regarding the pending marine mammal standards; I, too, have spoken to experts in this field. What I do know, is that no expert, including your own, would ever agree that keeping a mammal like Kiska in this manner is acceptable. I keep hearing that included in the up-and-coming Marine Mammal Standards, there will be specific provisions that will better Kiska’s life. In my opinion, and in that of experts, if this orca is forced to continue to live in solitary confinement (as it appears may be the case), there are no new standards that could effectively improve her life. There is no tank big enough (as you have acknowledged by banning further captivity of the species), and there is no amount of rubber balls, or tires on a rope, that you would give her that could begin to compensate for her isolation. She cannot continue to be left alone–period.
I have spent countless hours with this orca–documenting her, photographing her, studying her and talking to her. I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to who Kiska is, and what her existence has been like since she was removed from her family and life in the ocean, to being kept in a tank, so many decades ago……
Kiska was forcibly taken from her family, off the coast of Iceland in 1979, at roughly the tender age of two. She arrived at Marineland, in Niagara Falls, on October 1st, 1979 and has remained there ever since. Throughout the decades, she has had several tank mates and throughout those decades, she has seen them all either moved away from her, or die. What is more devastating is that Kiska has a 100% infant mortality rate. She has had five calves at Marineland and she has seen all five of them die. Some experts believe orcas are even more emotional than human beings are, and we know they have very strong family bonds– possibly stronger and more intense than we even do. So, I’d like to ask you, especially if you’re a parent, to think about that for a moment…Kiska has lost five babies, not all in one blow either. That would be unimaginable in itself, but one after the other, over the years…slowly, painfully. Her eldest calf, Hudson, survived to be almost six years old. This gave Kiska plenty of time to bond–then he died. Athena was Kiska’s last calf and only daughter. She lived to be almost 5 yrs old—then, she also died. Since Athena’s death, it has been said that Kiska has never been the same. How could she be?
Dr. Jeff Ventre, ex-SeaWorld trainer of 8 years, sent me this statement and he addressed it to you and all others concerned. Ventre said;
“TO PARLIAMENT OR TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
Since killer whales were taken into captivity approximately 50 years ago, we’ve learned a lot about their physiology & social behaviors, primarily from research on wild populations. Orca are known to be free ranging, and also to be more social than humans. Many killer whale subcultures remain in family units traveling the oceans together. Within that context, it’s become clear that Kiska’s situation at Marineland amounts to cruelty. Years of being bored or alone has left her with no viable teeth from chewing on concrete & parts of her facility. Science has demonstrated that captivity is detrimental for killer whales, but Kiska’s situation is amplified by the fact that she is not only confined, but alone. I am told that a plan is being considered to move Kiska out of Marineland where she can receive improved veterinary care & possibly the companionship of other whales. If your institution can allow for this plan to move forward, I hope you’ll consider what’s best for Kiska and I believe that the presence of other killer whales would improve the quality of her life.
Jeffrey Ventre MD
SeaWorld Trainer 1987-1995 “
Dr. Ventre has had the opportunity to see Kiska’s teeth, as have many others, including myself. If this is the case- that she is chewing on the walls of her tank or parts of her facility; it speaks volumes to her state living in seclusion. Ventre also states that this is a result of her being bored and alone.
Kiska’s species typically survive in the wild up to 60-80 years old! There is even documentation of killer whales surviving to be over 100 years old! Kiska has been in seclusion for more than four years now…she’s almost 40. With what we know regarding just how long she could potentially live, how can you allow her to continue on, decade after decade, in such a way? It’s inhumane. Furthermore, nowhere else in the world allows a captive orca to reside in total isolation. That dubious distinction belongs only to the Province Ontario. How is it that you recognize that orcas shouldn’t be in captivity and therefore ban orca breeding and acquisition , yet leave Kiska, Canada’s only orca, to languish in this way? It simply does not make sense. Include her in Bill 80. You do not even know how much longer Kiska will be able to survive, let alone endure this.
Orcas rely heavily on vocalizations. Each pod even has their own dialect, which they use through a series of ‘clicks and whistles’. As I previously mentioned, I have spent a great deal of time with Kiska and not once have I heard her vocalize. What’s the point–when she will never get an answer in return and all she hears is her own voice, bouncing back at her from a concrete wall?
You might say, “But she will be the last. There will be no more that will have to live like she has.” To me, and many others, that is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that we have an orca residing in solitary confinement, apparently self-mutilating…who will likely be damned to an indefinite lifetime of loneliness and despair. You have recognized that the killer whale does not make a good candidate for captivity so then why would you leave a killer whale in this predicament?
I would like to quote John Hargrove, the former Senior Trainer at SeaWorld, who was featured in the blockbuster movie “Blackfish” and is the New York Times best-selling author of “Beneath the Surface.” Hargrove stated;
“Kiska is something that just breaks my heart. I have to be honest and just say that I often consciously find myself blocking her out of my mind because it’s just so horrific, the condition she lives in as a solitary animal and I just think IT IS THE HEIGHT OF CRUELTY for animals like that.”
This is coming from a person who has worked with, trained and cared for several orcas–at SEAWORLD! He has to block Kiska out of his mind because the condition she is in, living in seclusion, is just too painful for him even to think about, yet you are allowing it here in Ontario. Not only are you allowing it, but it appears as though you are making a conscious decision to condone it.
I have obviously been following this for a very long time and have heard, time and time again, how this government makes animal welfare a top priority. The Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Office has informed me that they are well aware of how many people are concerned for Kiska because they receive more phone calls and emails regarding her than any other issue! So, I ask you, what about Kiska? If animal welfare is important to you, do not allow this animal to continue in this way. She CANNOT continue this way. It’s unheard of and it’s unacceptable. I have also heard politicians say things to the effect of, “Why are we here wasting time debating this one animal? The province only has one orca.” If you don’t care about this one animal, I’d ask you to listen to your constituents–fellow Ontarians, Canadians abroad, the many thousands of people who are calling and emailing you from around the world, who signed the 27,000-plus signatures on a petition for this one animal…. pleading with you to help Kiska, who is clearly in a dire situation. See Kiska’s petition to sign- (https://www.change.org/p/kathleen-wynne-release-canada-s-only-captive-orca-kiska-to-an-appropriate-facility)
Samantha Berg, former SeaWorld Trainer and cast member in the film “Blackfish,” sent me this statement to share with you. Berg says; ”
To Whom it may concern: I have seen Kiska's situation at Marineland Canada first-hand and her circumstances are deplorable and inhumane. Killer whales are highly intelligent social creature who spend their lives in the company of their family members. Yet for some reason, Kiska has spent the last four years of her life in a leaky, barren tank with no companionship other than that of her human trainers. For killer whales, this amounts to extreme cruelty, and the emotional and physical consequences or her continued isolation are likely to be devastating. At the very least, Kiska should be moved to another facility that houses killer whales so that she can live out out the rest of her days with the companionship of other members of her species. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if I can offer further clarification about my statement. -Samantha Berg - Former SeaWorld Trainer - Cast Member in the movie "Blackfish"
I would like to read to you a recommendation from a Marine Mammal Scientist who has met Kiska and has made it her life’s work to help these incredible beings. Her name is Dr. Naomi Rose. She said:
“Kiska’s situation is unique in the world – she is the only captive orca being held entirely isolated from other marine mammals. Lolita in the US and Kshamenk in Argentina have other dolphins to interact with – Kiska has no one. She spends endless hours floating listlessly, neurotically circling, inside her own head in a way we can only liken to prisoners in solitary confinement. Except, she has no understanding of why this is her life. It is imperative the government do something to improve her welfare – it is inhumane in the extreme to leave her as she is.”
On behalf of the majority of our fellow Ontarians, Canadians abroad, concerned citizens across the world and on behalf of Kiska; I am asking you to do the right thing. Do not allow this animal to languish as she has been…do the right thing. Yes, she is considered “property”–Marineland’s property, but that does not excuse the fact that we do have laws. We have them for a reason and when an animal is being held anywhere against existing legislation; it is our duty, your duty, to ensure that animal is being held to our standards and in compliance with the law. Yes, I recognize that we are dealing with a whale. However, killer whales are transferred on a regular basis; given what we know about Kiska’s species–just how intelligent and highly social and emotional they are–I believe that for this reason alone, there needs to be immediate action taken.
I am asking you, and the 27,000+ people who have signed her petition are asking you–on recommendations from experts–to transfer Kiska to another park where she can receive expert medical attention, but most of all, so that she can be with other orcas. Our current OSPCA Act, 60/09 Standards of Care for Captive Wildlife, which Kiska falls under, states the following:
4 (3) Wildlife kept in captivity must be kept in compatible social groups to ensure the general welfare of the individual animals and of the group and to ensure that each animal in the group is not at risk of injury or undue stress from dominant animals of the same or a different species. O. Reg. 60/09, s. 4 (3).
As this provision has been in effect since 2009, why has Kiska been residing in seclusion since 2011? Orcas are regularly transferred and for various reasons–this is not uncommon. Of course, this is not without possible risk–there is never a guarantee. It could happen with the transport of any animal. But does that mean you allow her to live in seclusion for the rest of her life, contrary to law? Should she continue to languish like this, only to die surrounded by concrete walls, alone? Personally, I would much rather say, “We tried our very best for her.” Leaving her in solitary confinement is most definitely not what is best for her and any expert in this field, including Dr. Naomi Rose, whom I have previously quoted, would agree.
Dr. Naomi Rose was asked: “What do you think the future holds for Kiska? What would be the most humane plan for her?”
She replied: “I wish I knew! In her current situation, I simply cannot imagine what her state of mind is. I thought Tilikum was the loneliest whale in the world, but that dubious honor is held by Kiska now. The most humane plan in the near term would be to move her to another facility with orcas. The most humane plan in the long-term is the same plan for all the world’s captive orcas – she should be retired to a sea pen.” (quote from Fins & Fluke)
From experts who have worked for years in this industry with these unique mammals; to concerned citizens of Ontario and Canada, both at home and abroad; to people around the globe, we are asking you to transfer Kiska to another park where she can receive expert medical attention. Not just to have access to expert medical attention, but to have it available to her, on site, at all times. At another park, she would have this. More importantly, we are asking you to transfer Kiska to another park because there, she can be with other orcas because her species, (as you have now acknowledged) desperately needs and relies upon companionship. Orcas are transferred all the time from one park to another. In fact, whichever park would suit her best (and experts would carefully consider available options), would more than likely assume the costs associated with her removal. To otherwise continue to allow this current situation to continue, especially when it is clear that keeping her in seclusion is contrary to existing law, is inhumane and it is wrong.
In closing, and on behalf of Kiska, I would like to emphasize that the world is watching. This orca is currently on the world’s stage (as you are well aware), and we are all waiting for you to do the right thing….the humane thing. Kiska is waiting for you to do the right thing. Experts have deemed her “the loneliest whale in the world”. Should you now determine that she be forever kept in solitude, to ensure she will never have a chance at to see another member of her species again, would be so very wrong.
Again, thank you for taking a step in the right direction by banning orcas in Ontario. You have rightly acknowledged that Kiska’s species does not make a good candidate for captivity, so clearly, it’s time. It’s time to transfer her to another park where she can live out the rest of her life the best she can, with her own kind. We are not asking you to re-enact a scene from “Free Willy”. Because of her condition, Kiska is not a candidate for wild release. Nor do we know who her pod is. We would not want that for her. She has been in captivity for far too long. Nor are we asking you to build a sea pen sanctuary for her. We are asking you to do what you know is right…what any expert would agree with: transfer her to an appropriate facility. Nowhere else in the world allows this. In fact, most countries have laws against it. It’s frowned upon. But given the provisions of Bill 80, it appears as though Ontario is condoning it with regard to her. Please also include Kiska in this Bill. We do have laws that have been in place in this province since 2009, which Kiska falls under, but they are currently being ignored. Kiska is being ignored. On behalf of Kiska, please hear her plea…please do the right thing for her.