? 1976 – August 15, 2017
The death of any captive killer whale is sad and sobering. Kasatka’s death hits especially hard.
Kasatka was born free — meant to live her life with her family, traveling and hunting, socializing and reproducing in the vast, rich, cold waters off Iceland.
Instead, she was captured in October 1978 at an estimated age of less than two, when she would likely still have been nursing, and spent the rest of her life in a tank. Many tanks. She died at SeaWorld San Diego on Tuesday, August 15 at the estimated age of 42.
Except she didn’t die, really. SeaWorld is being straight about that. She was euthanized after being treated for a bacterial lung infection for ten years. Ten years.
Kasatka had four offspring during her life in captivity: two males and two females; two conceived naturally (if anything orcas do in a tank can be called natural) and two conceived through artificial insemination. SeaWorld used Kasatka as a guinea pig. Her second calf, Nakai, born in September 2001, was SeaWorld’s first successful A.I. orca birth.
All four of Kasatka’s offspring are still alive and being held at SeaWorld San Diego. Her five surviving grandchildren and one surviving great-grandchild are scattered.
In its video tribute to Kasatka, SeaWorld calls her, among other things, the matriarch of her tank. That she was. What SeaWorld doesn’t mention: She pushed back at her captors, too.
On November 29, 2006, back when SeaWorld trainers still got in the water with orcas, Kasatka grabbed a trainer named Ken Peters by the foot during a performance, dragged him to the bottom of the tank, held him there until he went limp and played dead, then released him. No one really knows why. Peters survived, but a California OSHA investigator wrote in a draft of a report that it was “only a matter of time” before a captive orca did kill a trainer. SeaWorld made sure that observation didn’t appear in the final draft. Three years and one month later, a SeaWorld-bred orca named Keto killed a trainer named Alexis Rodriquez at Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain. Two months after that, the huge orca named Tilikum, also captured off Iceland and recently deceased, killed trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando.
Four other orcas taken from the wild are still living in tanks in the United States:
- Corky, captured in British Columbia in December 1969, at SeaWorld San Diego.
- Katina, captured off Iceland in October 1978, at SeaWorld Orlando.
- Ulises, captured off Iceland in late 1980, at SeaWorld San Diego.
- Lolita, captured off Washington State in August 1970, at Miami Seaquarium.
A group of dedicated scientists, researchers and marine mammal advocates are working diligently to establish a sea sanctuary where captured and captive-born whales and dolphins who can’t be freed (most can’t) could at least live out their days in something closer to their natural environment. Learn more about The Whale Sanctuary Project here. Learn about long-running campaigns to free Corky and Lolita here and here.
SeaWorld says in its announcement of Kasatka’s death: “All of us at SeaWorld are deeply saddened by this loss, but thankful for the joy [Kasatka] has brought us and more than 125 million park guests.” It doesn’t mention all the money Kasatka and her progeny have also brought SeaWorld’s way.
I say if SeaWorld really cared about Kasatka as something more than a baby-and-money-making machine, if they really recognized and respected her as the thinking, feeling, self-aware, magnificent being she was, they need to show it by doing more than just issuing a video and press release about her death. They should:
- Call for a moment of silence in her honor before the next week’s worth of shows at all SeaWorld parks.
- Cremate her, take her ashes back to Iceland and return her to the cold, deep waters of her birth.
It’s the least they can do.