Katina: the Business Woman
By Christina Colvin
Since she was taken from her family at the age of three, Katina applied herself to her monotonous labors with patience, reliability and a thorough understanding of what is required of her. In exchange, she requests a simple payment for services rendered: food.
A former SeaWorld trainer affectionately calls Katina a “business woman” for the way she demands compensation for her work. Another former trainer remarked that Katina didn’t seem to enjoy “anything other than being fed.” Life in a concrete tank, it seems, does little to stimulate her interest.
Whale-catchers wrenched Katina from her ocean home off the coast of Iceland some 38 years ago, and she has lived in captivity ever since. Her work takes several forms: she performs, she teaches new trainers how to execute maneuvers, and she has been regularly made to reproduce for SeaWorld’s breeding program.
Former trainer Jeff Ventre with Katina in May, 1995.
In 1985, Katina was the first orca to successfully give birth in captivity, and this bittersweet accomplishment influenced the entirety of her life. Just 20 months after she delivered her first calf, Katina was impregnated again and gave birth to her second child, Katerina. In their natural world mothers and daughters spend a lifetime together. Katina and Katerina were given two and a half years together before the youngster was shipped off to another facility across the country – doubtless a heart-wrenching event for both mother and child.
Katina has given birth to seven calves in all, of whom five have been taken from her and shipped other theme parks. Four have died. In the wild, male orcas leave the pod in order to mate. But Taku, one of Katina’s sons, impregnated his mother when he reached sexual maturity. To date, their calf, Nalani, lives with her at SeaWorld Orlando. Taku himself passed away in 2007, a few months after being separated from Katina.
“She saved me.”
Today, Katina continues to labor for SeaWorld. In spite of the monotony of her living environment, former trainers attest that she goes above and beyond what is asked of her. During one performance, she saw her son Taku ram her trainer, Jeff Ventre, who was in the water with them. Rather than leave Jeff vulnerable to Taku’s unpredictable, rambunctious behavior, Katina used her body to get between them so that Jeff could climb on her back. She then swam him to safety.
Katina got between Taku and Jeff so that Jeff could climb on her back. She then swam him to safety.
“She saved me,” he recalls.
True to her “business woman” sensibilities, Katina refuses to put up with nonsense from poorly-behaved humans or orcas. When a trainer who Katina dislikes gives her a command, she often sinks into the water, rolls to one side, and then stares at the offending person as if to say, “I know what you want from me, and you’re not getting it.”
With Katina in charge, the other orcas follow her lead. When she chooses not to perform, they will refuse to perform, too. They don’t want to risk the true boss of SeaWorld Orlando thinking that she’s being undermined.