Ikaika: the Loaner
By Christina Colvin
Ikaika has never seen the ocean, but he knows all too well how it feels to be packed in a truck and shipped away from his family. For his whole life, the captivity industry has treated him as a commodity, as an object to be traded and loaned out.
Ikaika, nicknamed “Ike,” was born in August 2002 at SeaWorld Orlando. For the first few years of his life, he was at least surrounded by members of his family. His mother, Katina, had already given birth to several other calves, and she cared for them with dedication and affection. But when Ikaika was only four years old, everything changed. SeaWorld decided to loan him to Marineland, an amusement park in Canada.
SeaWorld’s decision doomed Ikaika to separation from his mother at a very early age. In the wild, male orcas and their mothers stay together for their whole lives. Recent scientific research into the relationship between orca moms and their sons suggests that the survival of male orcas has much to do with the survival and ongoing presence of their moms. Ikaika should never have been separated from his mother, and he certainly should not have been separated from her when he was only four years old.
Ikaika and Kiska
Unfortunately, Ikaika’s experience of heartbreak and struggle had only just begun. At Marineland, he was introduced to the park’s resident female orca, Kiska. SeaWorld had shipped Ikaika to Marineland on a “breeding loan,” and Kiska, an orca wrenched from the oceans around Iceland in 1979, was his intended match. Kiska had already endured five miscarriages during her time in captivity. Even so, Marineland and SeaWorld were determined to make Kiska bear them new objects for the public’s eye.
Kiska and Ikaika did not get along, however. Ikaika would harass Kiska and try to bite her, so they frequently had to be separated. SeaWorld knew about Ikaika’s aggressive tendencies, yet still they sent him to Marineland. Right before being shipped off, he had attempted to mate with a young calf. In response, SeaWorld had sedated him twice a day to try to “mellow” him.
SeaWorld purported to have Ike’s best interest at heart when they demanded his return to the United States. They cited his teeth infections and aggression as evidence that he was not being properly cared for at Marineland. There was, however, some irony to their arguments since whales who have spent their whole lives in SeaWorld’s care also frequently suffer from aggressive tendencies and poor teeth.
Ikaika in San Diego
SeaWorld successfully got Ike back in November 2011, and he has lived at the company’s San Diego facility ever since. Even after SeaWorld made their case in court that they were dedicated to Ike’s good health, Ike nevertheless received a terrible injury on their watch. Specifically, he received a large gash to the underside of his rostrum, or chin area. This wound was likely inflicted by the vertically-raised metal bars installed above the surface of the whales’ pools. These unforgiving bars act as barriers to separate trainers and orcas.
Today, Ikaika is a large orca whose dorsal fin has started to collapse. And Kiska, the orca Ikaika left behind in Canada, lives completely by herself. Their tumultuous story testifies to the fact that the captivity industry simply cannot be trusted to care for the health and mental well-being of its trapped residents.
Ikaika’s name means “strong” in Hawaiian. To endure all the sadness in his life, Ike has certainly had to live up to his name. Now, we want him to have the opportunity to exercise his strength to explore and flourish in a seaside sanctuary.