Canada

‘Heartbreaking’ video of Marineland’s last surviving orca renews calls to free her

TORONTO —
A video of Marineland’s last surviving orca, Kiska, is renewing calls online for the marine mammal to be freed.

The video, shared on social media on July 16 by former Marineland employee and whistleblower Phil Demers, shows the orca moving slowly at the surface of the water and faintly moaning.

Camille Labchuk, executive director of national animal law advocacy organization Animal Justice, told CTV’s Your Morning that Kiska is one of the few remaining marine mammals still featured as an attraction at the Niagara Falls, Ont. theme park.

She said the moaning Kiska makes in the video sounds like the animal is suffering.

“It’s a really heartbreaking situation,” Labchuk said Wednesday. “It’s difficult to watch that video and feel anything but abject sympathy for this animal.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the footage of Kiska had been viewed 65,000 times on YouTube and has since been shared on other platforms including Twitter, Instagram and Reddit.

The video has also revitalized a two-year Change.org petition to #FreeKiska with an update asking Ontario Premier Doug Ford to move the orca to an “appropriate facility” such as a whale sanctuary, where “she can begin to acclimate to the wild and live a more natural and healthy life.”

The petition has more than 15,000 signatures, as of Wednesday.

Labchuk explained that Kiska has been in captivity since she was captured in the waters of Iceland as a young calf in 1979. The orca has been in isolation, without any companions, at Marineland for the past 10 years after outliving all her tank mates, including her five calves.

“She’s probably the world’s loneliest orca because every single other orca in captivity at least has other whales if not orcas themselves,” Labchuk said.

CTVNews.ca has reached out to Marineland for comment, but did not hear back at the time of publishing.

Labchuk said Animal Justice has filed an enforcement complaint with provincial authorities requesting an investigation into whether Marineland is breaking the law by keeping Kiska in such conditions.

“In Ontario, it’s not just illegal to cause physical pain or suffering or distress to an animal, but psychological distress too, and when you have an animal in solitary confinement, it’s difficult to imagine that she’s not experiencing stress,” Labchuk said.

She said Ontario’s provincial animal welfare services have the authority to issue charges and orders against Marineland, as well as seize animals.

However, Labchuk said moving Kiska is “unfortunately unlikely.”

The Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, which was passed in 2019, makes it illegal to keep any whales in captivity in Canada, except for the ones who are already in captivity.

“They were grandfathered in that new law because there’s simply a practical reason; there’s nowhere for them to go. They don’t have any survival skills, they don’t have any social networks to be released into the wild,” Labchuk said.

Labchuk said Animal Justice is hopeful that Kiska may one day be moved to a whale sanctuary, with one currently being built in Nova Scotia.

In the meantime, Labchuk says there are “a number of things” authorities could order Marineland to do to improve her well-being, including providing her with more sensory stimulation and cognitive enrichment.

She added that Kiska could also be placed with other marine animals, such as belugas or dolphins, to improve her social stimulation.

Despite numerous protests and petitions, Marineland has remained in operation for the past 60 years.

According to PETA, dozens of dolphins and whales have died at Marineland throughout the last decade, calling the park “one of the worst places for marine animals in the world.”

Marineland has previously denied that any of its animals are in distress, however, Labchuk says there’s evidence to prove otherwise.

A recent inspection of Marineland by Ontario’s animal welfare watchdog found that marine animals at the tourist attraction were in distress due to poor water quality.

According to The Canadian Press, the inspection launched earlier this year by Animal Welfare Services is still ongoing, but on May 10, inspectors issued two orders to Marineland to repair the water system in the pools that house beluga whales, dolphins, walruses, sea lions and one killer whale.

“We’re seeing so many people very concerned about this video because it’s more of the same, and people are wondering why is this facility still open,” Labchuk said.

Labchuk said the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has Canadians empathizing with Kiska’s situation and pushing for her freedom.

“We’ve all come out of the year of lockdowns we know how difficult it can be to be solitary or have limited social interactions, and I think people look at Kiska and they feel her pain,” Labchuk said.


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