Who Killed Kiska?


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April 20, 2023

For Kiska, who died six weeks ago today.

I don’t know Indiana Colts owner Jim Irsay. but I have two things in common with him. The first is that we’ve both been to Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis to see the Colts play. The other is that we both have a huge admiration for Hunter S. Thompson. I have a single tattoo on my body, highly visible on my lower left arm. It’s of a Ralph Steadman illustration from Thompson’s book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

In 1999, I was asked to write an article for a trade publication about how my company accomplished a certain program. The draft was sent up through the ranks to our corporate headquarters in Canada, being approved every step of the way, including by our public relations department. Then, hours before the publication was set to go to press, I received a call from my district manager. The article couldn’t be published. Our legal department had determined after everyone else had approved it that it gave away too much proprietary information.

I wasn’t happy with this. It was embarrassing and the publication’s editor had to find a last minute replacement. On a whim, I decided to write Hunter S. Thompson, who I was – and still am – a big fan of (at the time, I was reading “The Fear and Loathing Letters Vol. 1). Hunter often wrote about issues with his publishers or his assignments. I asked him if he had encountered a similar instance and how he dealt with it. To my surprise, he wrote back. There was a single line in his letter that resonates with me to this day:

“If you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not doing your job as a writer.”

Prepare to be pissed off.

Joe Kleiman, Blogmeister, ThemedReality


Conventional firearms are acceptable in smaller (<6 m long) whales. The choice of the calibre of ammunition for these animals is influenced by their size and thus the likelihood of the projectile (bullet) reaching vital organs, more specifically the brain or brain stem. In a partly submerged whale, however, any amount of water that the projectile needs to cross before hitting the target may greatly reduce its kinetic energy, and as a result, its ability to reach vital organs. In such a situation, it is advisable to wait for the tide to go down if it will expose more of the animal’s head.

Shooting is not recommended for animals longer than 6 m, with the possible exception of minke whales, as it cannot guarantee immediate destruction of the brain.

– “Advice on Euthanasia Techniques for Small and Large Cetaceans,” Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2014

Through the mid-1800s, the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America. As Barry Yeoman wrote in Audubon Magazine in 2014, the hundredth year of the species’ extinction: “Throughout the 19th century, witnesses had described similar sightings of pigeon migrations: how they took hours to pass over a single spot, darkening the firmament and rendering normal conversation inaudible.”

The last sighting of a passenger pigeon in the wild was in 1900. After that, a few remained in human care in labs or zoos. By 1907, only six males and one female remained. The cold extremes of winter took the lives of the four males at David Whitaker’s aviary in Milwaukee, leaving the lone female and her two male companions at the Cincinnati Zoo. One of the males died in 1909, the other in 1910. The female, named Martha, lived another four years, dying in 1914 at the age of 28. For a pigeon, four years is a long time to spend without another of its kind.

One day in my high school world history class, our teacher wrote a line on the chalkboard, turned around, and silently stared at us. The line was this:

“Who was responsible for the Holocaust?”

We all yelled “Nazis”.

He pulled out the slide projector and started showing us newspaper clippings about Kristallnacht, articles about the new antisemitic laws being instituted in Germany, and photos of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland. All these clippings were from prominent American papers.

Then he turned back to the chalkboard and wrote this:

“Everyone who knew that something was happening and didn’t do anything or didn’t do enough was responsible.”

1. More to the story

. . . . at Marineland, Kiska gave birth, as a young adult, to five calves. All of them died young: Athena, Hudson, Nova, Kanuck and one who didn’t survive long enough to be named. Studies suggest that orcas’ capacity to feel deep, complex emotions rivals or even exceeds the emotional capacity possessed by humans. The bond between mother and calf is so deep that it is hard to imagine the grief and trauma of each of Kiska’s losses over the years.

For marine entertainment parks, the death of a calf is a business loss. So, in 2001, when Kiska was about 25 years old and with no surviving males by whom she could be bred again, Marineland approached Busch Gardens, at that time the owners of SeaWorld, about the possibility of acquiring a male orca.

Busch Gardens, which had been looking for some beluga whales, offered to make an agreement whereby one male orca from a SeaWorld facility would be loaned to Marineland in exchange for four beluga whales. Marineland said it wouldn’t go higher than three. Busch Gardens insisted on four but finally offered to throw in a couple of SeaWorld’s trained sea lions. And so the deal was done.

The contract stipulated that the two companies would alternate ownership of baby whales. Shortly thereafter, Ikaika, a four-year-old orca at SeaWorld Orlando, was flown to Marineland in Niagara Falls. Known as “Ike,” he was too young to breed, but the plan was for him to develop relationships with Kiska and another female orca and become a father in the coming years.

– “Kiska: The Loneliest Whale in the World,” The Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP), 2018

The above is a simplification of the story of Kiska and Ikaika. Through court documents, interviews, and testimony, we are able to fill in the gaps.

At the time of Ikaika’s arrival to Marineland of Canada in 2006, there were actually three females in the tank – two adult females – Kiska and Nootka – and the last of Kiska’s five calves, Athena. The plan was that the two juvenile orcas would mature together and then Ikaika would sire Athena’s calf. When Athena died in 2009 at the age of four and one year after Nootka’s passing 2008, the decision was made that Kiska would now become the breeding partner.

In early 2011, a prolonged legal battle ensued over SeaWorld’s notice that it was ending the breeding loan. After three lawsuits on both sides of the border, Ikaika was finally removed from Marineland, arriving in San Diego in November 2011. In court documents, claims were made by SeaWorld about poor conditions at the Canadian park, while Marineland argued that the American chain’s new owners failed to honor agreements made by the prior owner of Busch Entertainment Group. I should note that Busch Entertainment Group and Busch Gardens are two different things. Busch Entertainment Group, now known as SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, is the parent company, while Busch Gardens (used in the above WSP excerpt) and SeaWorld are the company’s theme park brands.

There are also some significant gaps in Whale Sanctuary Project’s timeline. While the first discussions on breeding loans may have began in 2001, an agreement to actually initiate the joint breeding program did not take place until 2005, four years later.

A male SeaWorld orca was not part of the the original agreement. This early version did not mention breeding either Kiska or Nootka, as Kiska would still have been nursing Athena, born in 2004, while Nootka was pregnant at the time, a pregnancy which resulted in a miscarriage. Per a September 2005 agreement, SeaWorld was to have sent a female to breed with the male Kandu VII, who had recently sired both Athena and Nootka’s unborn calf. Kandu passed away four months after the agreement was solidified and the female was never transferred from SeaWorld. In March 2006, the agreement was changed to an adult male that would breed with both Kiska and Nootka. Marineland was not satisfied with any of the adult male candidates and in August 2006, SeaWorld proposed the breeding loan be changed yet again, this time to a juvenile male, who would then mature and breed with Athena. According to Marinelaind’s complaint to the court: “Marineland examined the young male killer whale proposed by SeaWorld, but had to reject him for health reasons as well. This young male killer whale subsequently passed away.” On November 16, 2006, the breeding loan agreement for Ikaika was signed by Keith Kasen, the President of Busch Entertainment Group and John Holer, President of Marineland of Canada.

Only five years later, Ikaika was removed for a single reason. In 2009, Blackstone Group, an investment management company, purchased the majority of Busch Entertainment, SeaWorld’s parent company. Gone were the days when George Milay, Bill Jovanovich, or Augustus Busch III would make gentleman’s agreements for animal trades with a simple handshake. Blackstone was all business. And Blackstone wanted a strong return on its investments. Blackstone’s stance on cetacean captivity was extremely contradictory. At the same time that it owned SeaWorld and was breeding whales and dolphins, it was also a majority owner of Merlin Entertainments. Merlin had maintained an anti-cetacean captivity policy in all its theme parks and aquariums since an earlier incarnation of the company was formed in 1992.

While Blackstone played both sides of the fence, the new owners became aware that one of their orcas was in Canada and wasn’t making money for them. On December 1, 2010, SeaWorld sent a letter to Marineland sharing its intention to terminate the lease agreement. They were well within the parameters of the four-year lease, which required 30 day notice and which ended on December 31 of that year, with the option for an annual extension. The courts determined that SeaWorld’s request was in line with the agreement.

The divide between the two Blackstone owned companies – SeaWorld and Merlin – became obvious when SeaWorld, along with its American aquarium partners, attempted to import beluga whales from a depleted stock in Russia. In October 2012, Janine DiGioacchino, Merlin’s Midway* Director for the USA, wrote to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): “SEA LIFE concurs with the view of all the leading authorities in this field and indeed the majority of ordinary American citizens canvassed on this subject, that cetaceans are not suited to captivity . . . . Keeping cetaceans of any kind, even when there is some educational merit, is a vastly different proposition to the display of fish and other marine creatures which have been proven to flourish in carefully designed and maintained aquarium tanks.”

Fortunately, this provides a perfect segue into my next series of quotes. It’s one thing to omit information either for space or to maintain a narrative. It’s another to use information out of context. This is Andrew Burns, the attorney for Marineland of Canada, testifying in 2015 against Bill 80, which placed restrictions on orca captivity in the Provence of Ontario:

“The pool which houses Kiska is actually the largest pool housing a killer whale in the world. SeaWorld is proposing a development to expand the size of its pools. Even if that development is completed, Kiska will have five and a half times more space than the whales at SeaWorld. We have provided you with our materials, a comparison chart which shows you the volume comparison of the pools at the largest and most modern facilities in the world. Marineland’s Arctic Cove and Friendship Cove are larger collectively than the largest pool in the world at the Georgia Aquarium and larger than the largest pool in Asia at Ocean Kingdom, which just opened at a cost of over US$800 million. These facilities are actually enormous.”

I’m very familiar with both facilities. The two “pools” that Burns refers to – at Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China – are the world’s largest aquarium tanks for fish, including whale sharks, but these tanks don’t house whales. Another manipulation in his statement involves combining Arctic Cove, which houses only belugas and Friendship Cove, where Kiska only inhabited one of three tanks, as if they constituted a a single tank (Arctic and Friendship are two different physically separated facilities). Bill 80 only impacted a single orca in both facilities – Kiska – who inhabited less than 1/4 of the tank volume Burns was boasting about.

*Merlin Entertainment’s term for standalone non-theme park attractions.

2. Know your audience

SeaWorld knew that Ike was not capable of breeding until approximately at the end of 2010 . . . . When Ike became capable of breeding, SeaWorld requested his return and frustrated the purpose of the Interchange Agreement and BLA.

– Complaint for Temporary and Permanent Injunctive Relief, Marineland v SeaWorld, October 14, 2011

A female killer whale requires a 17 month gestation period period, followed by a 3 year nursing period in which it must remain with its calf. Thus, at a minimum, a female killer whale requires over four and a half years in order to effect a proper birth and nursing period.

– Affidavit of Lanny Cornell, SeaWorld v Marineland, March 28, 2011

Kiska is an adult female killer whale. Her age is estimated to be approximately 37 years. While she has had health problems in the past, she is now in good health. Moreover, she constantly interacts with Ikaika, in a manner to be expected of healthy mature killer whales. In fact, for the past four months, there has been, for the first time, considerable sexual activity between the two.

– Second Supplemental Affidavit of Lanny Cornell, SeaWorld v Marineland, May 4, 2011

She’s very elderly, so it’s the equivalent of taking someone who is 80 years old or 90 years old in an old folks’ home and moving them into an apartment in the Village in New York. It’s going to be terrible for her and she wouldn’t survive the trip, which is a hugely stressful event for an animal. To be moved, she’d have to be moved by airplane, and it would kill her.

– Andrew Burns testimony to Legislative Assembly of Ontario Standing Committee on Social Policy, May 11, 2015

. . . . should she be released to the wild? Absolutely not. She has been in a captive environment for many years. When she was brought in from the wild, Kiska had a medical problem that required attention throughout her entire career at Marineland. Releasing her to the wild, I’m pretty sure, would be her death sentence. It would definitely be the wrong thing to do in her case. It would take a tremendous amount of money and a tremendous amount of time to recondition her to be released to the wild.

– Lanny Cornell testimony to Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, May 30, 2017

When addressing the court to prevent the removal of Ikaika from Marineland, the argument presented was that the whales were just starting courtship. This, or course, would require Kiska to be healthy for the next four years while enduring a pregnancy and nursing. Yet, only four years later, Marineland authorities questioned her health and warned she would die if moved from the park, an easy explanation to make given that most, if not all, of the legislators were likely unfamiliar with the arguments given just a few years earlier for breeding her. They had mastered the art of selective argument.

There appears to be an ulterior motive on why Marineland fought so hard to retain Ikaika, and this can be found directly in the court filings. It shifts the argument away from Ikaika’s presence being a requirement for Kiska to become pregnant and brings something else to light – that Ikaika was a second orca at Marineland, and young, and the park wasn’t paying a fee to SeaWorld to keep him.

“Marineland will be irreparably harmed if SeaWorld takes custody of Ike. Ike is a major attraction at Marineland, and he cannot simply be replaced . . . . The threat of injury to Marineland outweighs whatever damage SeaWorld may suffer if Ike stays at Marineland. Ike has been at Marineland for more than half of his life. Additionally, SeaWorld has the largest population of killer whales in the world, and Marineland only has Ike and Kiska.”

In their testimony for Bill 80, which codified regulations and restrictions for housing orcas in Ontario, and S-203, which eliminated cetacean captivity in Canada, Cornell and Burns expressed concerns that Bill 80, which became law on May 15, 2015, restricted Marineland’s ability to bring in a companion orca for Kiska. With Ikaika leaving in 2011, Marineland had four years to find a companion. In 2012, it was close to securing a female orca that had lived without other orcas for a decade in two American theme parks. Then SeaWorld took that orca away from Marineland as well.

3. How to create lonely orcas

Kshamenk is an adult male killer whale held at Mundo Marino S.A. in San Clemente del Tuyu, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. The animal was rescued from a stranding. The following account was provided by Mundo Marino: On November 7, 1992, one killer whale was found stranded on the coast of Salinas Stream, in Samborombon Bay. Mundo Marino rescued it, but the whale died within a few hours of transport. In the afternoon of the same day, fishermen observed four killer whales stranded in “Rio de Ajo”, another location within Samborombon Bay. The next morning (November 18), Mundo Marino explored the site and found only one killer whale stranded. They could not move the whale because the extreme low-tide and waited until the tide rose sufficiently to attempt the rescue. Tidal conditions became favorable the next day and on November 19, the whale now known as Kshamenk was brought to Mundo Marino.

Our examination of Kshamenk’s medical and husbandry records suggests that since his recovery from the stranding episode, his health has generally been good and he has grown normally. At the time of stranding, Mundo Marino estimated his age at approximately three years. However, based on the time that he reached sexual maturity and his current size and stage of development, we believe that he must have been at least five years old when he stranded, making him a minimum of 19 years of age at present. Kshamenk sired a calf by a female killer whale (Belen) in 1997. The calf was stillborn in November 1998, and Belen died in February 2000. Since that time, Kshamenk has had no contact with other killer whales. He formed a close bond with a bottlenose dolphin (Floppy) shortly after Belen’s death, and the two have been held in the same pool ever since. They continue to be strongly associated, and according to the staff at Mundo Marino are never separated. As with most adult make killer whales in captivity, Kshamenk’s dorsal fin is permanently curled to one side.

– “Assessment of the Current Status, and Recommendations Regarding the Future of the Killer Whale ‘Kshamenk’,” Geraci, Huff, and Barrett-Leonard, 2006

Rumors began circulating about the four orcas and a possible forced stranding. Perhaps the transient pod did find themselves stranded, however the more likely scenario was that the local oceanarium saw an opportunity to increase their orca collection, rather than help release the dolphins back out to sea. It was a story with various renditions but the oceanarium Mundo Marino had been known to force animals into stranding situations in order to capture them for display. At the time, the facility had just one other orca thus, the transients would have provided the perfect opportunity to expand their captive population.

– “Kshamenk: The Forgotten Orca in Argentina,” Ric O’Berry’s Dolphin Project, 2018

Regardless of whether the capture was a rescue or an orchestrated stranding, what happened next is a textbook example of what happens when good intentions create undesirable conditions. In 2001, Mundo Marino orchestrated a breeding agreement with Six Flags, a North American theme park chain. The American company had just purchased the SeaWorld Ohio property and were integrating it with a neighboring theme park. In 2002, Shouka, born at Marineland Antibes in France, was flown out to the Ohio property. The plan was for her to be joined by Kshamenk, both of whom were on the same approved NOAA import permit.

According to Gabriela Bellazzi of Wild Earth Foundation (WEF), while NOAA Fisheries issued an import permit, the Director of CITES in Argentina was persuaded to deny an export permit on the grounds that private ownership of wildlife was illegal in the country and that a move of Kshamenk would require a transfer of ownership to the aquarium, setting in motion a “negative precedent.”

Bellazzi wrote in a 2013 document: “In 2002, together with the Free Willy­‐Keiko Foundation and Earth Island Institute, WEF submitted a proposal to retire and rehabilitate Kshamenk as an alternative to his transfer to Six Flags. Different locations in three Argentine provinces were assessed and an evaluation of Kshamenk’s health and mental status requested, in order to know whether he was a good candidate for release . . . . While holding Kshamenk in a sea pen would provide him with a larger and richer environment that would allow him to engage in natural activities, such retirement plan is likely to fail in the current situation. The costs for a long-­‐term care are excessive, and, mostly important, there are no adequate locations near the oceanarium or near the area of Kshamenk’s stranding, which would ensure protection from storms and other natural threats.”

It’s here that connections can be made. Free Willy-Keiko Foundation operated as part of the International Marine Mammal Project, which is part of Earth Island Institute (EII). So, Free-Willy Keiko and EII were one and the same organization. And they both operated under the same management – most notably, David Phillips, a founding board member of the Whale Sanctuary Project.

My guess is that at the time, in 2002, EII did not have the financial infrastructure to maintain two costly whale relocations and rehabilitations, especially as its primary donor on Keiko, Craig McCaw, had significantly reduced his funding the prior year. So while EII was busy working with Keiko, Kshamenk was being set up to live more than a decade without another orca. As a result of the failure to relocate him to Ohio, Shouka also lived a decade without another orca, in both Ohio and later the San Francisco Bay Area. It is true that both had bottlenose dolphin companions. While Kshamenk was, by all reports, friendly with his dolphin companion, the same could not be said of Shouka. After exhibiting aggressive activity, she was physically separated from the park’s dolphins. On the surface, it appears this may constitute a violation of § 3.109 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as established under the Animal Welfare Act (cetaceans must be with a companion of the same species or a companion that is similar biologically). However, there are provisions for exceptions in the statute when proximity to another similar animal might result in physical or mental harm to the animal in question.

In 2012, Six Flags and Marineland of Canada were in discussions for Shouka to become a companion to Kiska. But Six Flags didn’t own Shouka. She had been sent to Ohio on breeding loan in 2002 with the full expectation that she would be paired with Kshamenk. Her owners, Spanish theme park firm Parques Reunidos, through its American subsidiary Palace Entertainment (the same Palace Entertainment that in 2014 would buy the Miami Seaquarium and Lolita/Tokitae),engaged its lawyers to prevent the transfer. Nine months after Ikaika’s arrival at SeaWorld San Diego, Shouka arrived at the same park. Were they intended to mate? Perhaps. But in 2016, SeaWorld ended its breeding program.

As Shouka ended her decade of loneliness, Kshamenk would continue his life without another orca, and with Bill 80 receiving Royal Consent on May 28, 2015, no further orcas would be permitted for import into the Provence of Ontario. Kiska would live her final eleven years alone in her tank, without another orca, or even a bottlenose dolphin.

4. Age and politics

There is also a need to add certainty to the [Marine Mammal Protection] Act with regard to the release of captive marine mammals to the wild. Within the scientific community, the release of marine mammals held in captivity for extended periods of time is widely regarded as potentially harmful to both the animals released and wild populations they encounter. Fundamental questions remain as to the ability of long-captive marine mammals to forage, avoid predators, and integrate with wild populations. Moreover, release creates the risk of disease transmission, inappropriate genetic exchanges, and disruption of critical behavioral patterns and social structures in wild populations.

– Statement of Dr. William T. Hogarth, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service, Oversight Hearing on the Marine Mammal Protection Act before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, October 11, 2001

One of the biggest arguments given against moving an orca like Kiska or Lolita/Tokitae from their tanks is age. The term “geriatric whale” is often used. But what exactly does that mean? We can compare the oldest living whales captured in the wild – Corky and Lolita/Tokitae to the average lifespan of orcas, but those average numbers vary. There are four main populations we can compare them to – global in facilities, SeaWorld orcas, global wild, and local populations. We can even compare them to both the combined Northern and Southern populations, to their own populations, and even to their own pods.

I’m going to use the easiest way of computing their ages against captive populations – meaning I’m not going to go there. There are a number of issues in play. The first is that when looking at global populations, the vast majority of orcas in facilities are not on public display, meaning we do not have an accurate public count of how many deaths and births have occurred in Chinese facilities over the past decade.

As for SeaWorld figures, the easiest thing to do is to use the data from the National Inventory of Marine Mammals database maintained by NOAA Fisheries. That requires a FOIA request and I have not received the documentation by the time of this post. So, I looked at lay websites and the numbers don’t equate. For example, In 2014, The Dodo published an article titled “62 orcas have died at SeaWorld – not a single one of old age.” The article, using data from the Oceanic Preservation Society, includes 12 orcas from Komogawa Sea World in Japan, which is owned and operated by a different company. By removing those 12, the number reduces to 50, but that’s 50 almost a decade ago. Ceta-base’s current count is 51. Both the Dodo and Ceta-Base figures include stillbirths and miscarriages, which are rarely counted in wild censuses as they are often documented only conjecturally. WDC gives a count of 44 deaths at SeaWorld parks.

Numbers get even more discordant in peer reviewed papers. In 2016, Ewan Calloway wrote in the journal Nature of two competing studies: “In one of the 2015 studies, the former [SeaWorld] trainers — John Jett, a biologist at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and Jeffrey Ventre, a physician at Lakeview Campus Medical Facility in Yakima, Washington — attempted to measure how captive whales have fared since conditions were improved in the 1980s. They pooled data from between 1961 and 2013 on 201 captive killer whales in institutions around the world, including SeaWorld. They concluded that survival rates in captivity have improved since 1985, but that even the most recent survival rates are below those of animals in the wild.

“In the other 2015 study, researchers led by SeaWorld veterinary surgeon Todd Robeck came to a very different conclusion: that animals now in captivity at SeaWorld’s US parks live just as long as wild populations. The researchers looked only at animals held at those parks after 2000, and produced a survival rate that is higher than a rate that they calculated for southern resident killer whales — and equivalent to that of another wild population that lives in the waters off British Columbia, Canada.”

“Now, each lead author has taken aim at the work of the other. In a letter published in Marine Mammal Science, Robeck and three colleagues note that Jett and Ventre included in their 2015 study stranded animals, which might have arrived in captivity in poor health, and newborns, which are at particularly high risk of death. This pushes down the apparent survival rate of captive animals, say the researchers . . .

“. . . In the same journal, Jett responds to that critique, and accuses Robeck’s 2015 study of bias because, for instance, it compares captive whales to the southern resident population, which is endangered and exposed to pollutants and shipping traffic, and whose numbers have waxed and waned over the past four decades.”

To make things simple to understand, I’m going to keep my approach very, very simple. I’m using lifespan, which looks at how long an individual has lived up until the point of the survey.

Lolita/Tokitae and Corky are within the same parameters, being right about the same age. How they compare to the average lifespan, which we’ll be examining, will vary depending on the population surveyed. I’ll use Lolita/Tokitae as our template, and again, this is determining lifespan in the simplest manner.

In statistics, there are three main ways to compute an average: mean, median, and mode.

Let’s say that we have four orcas in our group. One is a year old, two are two years old, and one is five years old. To determine the median, we line the numbers up in numerical order and find the center point.

1, 2, 5

2 is the center point, so it would be the median age.

To determine the mode, we look for the most frequently repeated value. With two instances of 2 and only one instance each of the other ages. 2 would be the mode age.

To determine the mean age, which is what we’ll be using going forward, we add the values together, then we divide by the number of values in the set.


10/4 = 2.5

The mean age of our four orcas would be 2.5.

I’ll be using Lolita/Tokitae’s estimated age of 57 years old as our template. There are quite a few factors that I won’t be taking into consideration, such as the unusual high number of orca deaths at global facilities in the past two years and the impact of climate change on water temperature and food sources for wild populations. Like I said, I’m keeping this very simple. I’ll be comparing Lolita/Tokitae’s age to two readily available numbers – the mean lifespan for the global wild orca population and that for her native population, the Southern Residents.

From NOAA Fisheries, we obtain a global lifespan of 50 for females. That places her seven years above the average age.

From the Center for Whale Research, founded by the late Ken Balcomb, we get a mean lifespan of 30 for Southern Resident females. The lower figure is due to reduced breeding population (in fact, recent research indicates the Southern Residents are now an isolated gene pool), attributable to the captures of the 1960s and 70s, and environmental hardships, such as lack of available food for their restrictive diet. Under the parameters used for the Southern Residents, Lolita/Tokitae would be an old whale, 17 years above the average.

But what is geriatric? According to Dr. Patricia Dennis of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, a percentage of lifespan is used in computing geriatric status for animals, often 70-80%. Therefore, if we add some pixie dust and unicorn scat and wish upon a star and imagine that Lolita/Tokitae can live to twice the average lifespan if fending for herself in the wild, using the higher figure, 80%, we can conclude that as part of the global population, she would not be considered geriatric for another 23 years.

Now there’s nothing wrong with using pixie dust and unicorn scat and wishing upon a star, because it is perfectly possible that she can grow quite old.

However, using the same criteria, by Southern Resident standards, she’s been geriatric for the past 9 years. And the mean age for Southern Residents is lower than what it was five years ago.

But the definition of geriatric is much more than a percentage of lifespan. It coincides with physical and mental changes in the individual. Now is as good as time as any to ask: were Lolita/Tokitae’s recent health issues environmental or were they geriatric, or a combination of both factors?

We have to look at a number of possibilities of what life will be like for her if and when she returns to the Salish Sea. To what extent will memory play a role in her adaptation to her native sea pen waters? What skills does she have for survival outside her current tank that may be purely instinctual? In the sea pen, will she have a concept of independence or will she be habitually tied to her trainers, trying to spend al her time around them? There’s this ideal that if you place an animal in the wild, the super-dependence on the human bond begins to diminish, but that’s not always the case, especially the longer an animal has been isolated in a confined environment. Has her mental growth been stunted so much by her years in the Seaquarium tank that she basically is less than an orca and more like a dog, bonded with humans so much that it’s become an insatiable codependence? There’s got to be a reason why so many orca trainers move on to training or owning dogs.

It is not easy for an animal to move to a new environment, even if it is one in which she spent her first few years of life. There’s the part of us that sees an idealistic outcome, but there’s always the risk that change could be detrimental The transport is another concern. She will need to be medicated for the move. Will her system be able to accept the sedatives and pain killers? Will they interfere with her other medication?

Valerie Greene, a lawyer and former SeaWorld trainer, suggested in the Orlando Sentinel that she be moved to SeaWorld Orlando, stating “Toki could live in Shamu Stadium’s G pool, which would more than triple the size of her current pool and create an immediate positive change in her quality of life.” It’s a great idea, as G pool, which is used for the Dine with Orcas program and features the underwater viewing window, was physically blocked off from the rest of the orca tanks a few years ago to house pilot whales. The solution could have also worked for Kiska, though I doubt Marineland would ever consider sending her to SeaWorld after what happened with Ikaika and Shouka.

I am highly doubtful that Loltia/Tokitae will be moved to SeaWorld. It has nothing to do with her health, age, willingness to move, or the availability of the SeaWorld tank. It’s purely political. There is an absolute distrust of SeaWorld among a great many residents of the Salish Sea based on the way they captured local orcas and depleted their populations. This became evident when SeaWorld partnered with other groups, including the Whale Sanctuary Project, to rescue Southern Resident J50. Concerns were expressed online about SeaWorld and WSP partnering together and also during public hearings held by NOAA about SeaWorld’s participation and perceived intentions. To send Lolita/Tokitae to SeaWorld would be risky for the Friends of Tokitae organization and its affiliate, Whale Sanctuary Project. It would jeopardize the support of of their fanbase and donors in Washington State, where they have long promised to build a sanctuary. They would be accused of collusion with SeaWorld and handing over a whale to be appropriated by the company that now will never see her home waters.

I do, however, know one orca facility, much larger than her current tank in Miami, that she could go to that has never housed Southern Residents (this park’s history with Northern Residents is a different matter).

I noticed who was present at the press conference announcing the initiative to return Lolita/Tokitae to Washington, and who was not. The podium was taken up by politicians (the Mayor and local Councilwoman for the district the park sits in) and four businessmen – the heads of The Dolphin Company, Sea Shepherd, The Whale Sanctuary Project, and the Baltimore….sorry, Indianapolis Colts.

Missing from the podium was Raynell Morris of Sacred Lands Conservancy, the Lummi Nation nonprofit working to return Lolita/Tokitae/Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut to her ancestral home (though I believe she was present, she did not speak at the event). Four other key players who were at a “Day of Listening” public event in December 2022 also were not at the podium or speakers’ table – consulting veterinarians Jim McBane, Stephanie Newman, and Thomas Reidarson, and Jeff Foster, who is the Site Search, Animal Transfer & Rehab Coordinator for the Whale Sanctuary Project. The press conference was not about health or husbandry, for even had they been present, these four did not speak. It was designed as a publicity event. And it took place two weeks to the day after Kiska died.

An 18 to 24 month figure for transporting Lolita/Tokitae to Washington was given in a press release, though significantly lower figures – as low as six months – were given during the accompanying press conference. Vinick attributed these discrepancies to individual opinions and wishful thinking.

It’ll certainly take years for the permitting process to move Lolita/Tokitae out of state (apparently, she could be moved to SeaWorld Orlando without an ESA permit since it’s within the same state). It’s important to note that it took two years alone for her to be included on the Southern Resident ESA listing, from the time of application to enaction. The concept, as I understand it, is that with Jim McCaw….sorry, Jim Irsay’s funding, political connections, and his big money lawyers, hurdles can be crossed and expediency will become the name of the game.

While the current plans for Lolita/Tokitae’s move have not been made public, we can get an idea of what’s involved from earlier proposed plans by Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and Howard Garrett of Orca Network. Both of these were made publicly available at the time of publication. Note that some links in the documents may no longer be valid.

The permitting process could be complicated because this has never been done with a listed endangered orca in US waters before. To get an idea of how complicated, here’s correspondence between The Whale Sanctuary Project’s Charles Vinick and provincial and federal officials about the whale sanctuary location in Nova Scotia. It’s been an extremely lengthy process, primarily because of the uniqueness of the situation and individual agencies trying to discern who has what responsibility and what procedures and permits are required. While I’ll give them a bit of leeway as the COVID pandemic impacted staffing at government agencies, the Port Hilford sanctuary location was announced in February, 2020. This correspondence begins in January 2021. The sanctuary is currently in an environmental and assessment phase, with construction yet to begin on the netting and support buildings.

If you go to page 170 of the correspondence, you’ll see slides created by staff of the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Climate Change for a May 18, 2021 conference call. Page 177 presents a timeline, which lists construction starting once the land is leased, applications are submitted for permits, and infrastructure is complete on private lands. The whales would not arrive until five years into the process. Under this schedule, if the sanctuary construction were to begin this year, whales would not arrive until 2028. Michael McDonald, in a November 2022 CBC report writes: “Charles Vinick, executive director of the non-profit Whale Sanctuary Project, said the government’s timeline is flawed because it includes construction of an interpretive centre, which won’t happen until after the whales arrive. The group’s own timeline now has a late 2023 start date, though Vinick said 2024 is more likely.” Personally, based on all the criteria presented by by WSP and through publicly available documentation, if construction begins this year, I don’t believe we’ll see a sanctuary at Port Hilford, one with a greatly pared down support facility, until 2025 or, more likely, 2026 at the earliest.

5. Why I don’t endorse the Whale Sanctuary Project

Since our incorporation as a non-profit organization the Whale Sanctuary Project has reached a number of important milestones. We have a ten-year strategic and financial plan, a strong advisory committee of experts, a great Board of Directors, and we are in the process of completing the site selection process. All of this has been made possible so far by generous donors and our main benefactor, Munchkin, Inc. Next year we hope to be in the process of procuring and developing the sanctuary site and, with more help and support, open and ready to care for orcas and/or belugas sometime in 2019.

– Lori Marino quoted in “The Whale Sanctuary Project: Saying No Thanks to Tanks” by Mark Bekoff, Psychology Today, July 27, 2017

There are a number of nonprofit groups developing and/or operating cetacean sanctuaries. The Whale Sanctuary Project is perhaps the most well known and most vocal. I do not endorse this group and never have, and I’m about to tell you why. It’s likely not for the reasons you might think.

It has nothing to do with what they do or who’s involved. And to understand, I need to give you a bit of my background.

In 2010, I walked away from the museum world to care for my ailing grandmother, at which point I began writing professionally and blogging. But prior to that, I spent more than a decade as a manager and executive for a number of commercial and nonprofit operations, responsible for annual revenue of between $1 million and $5 million, depending on the operation, with a net profit margin of 70-80%. I worked closely in these positions with our marketing and development teams (there are two types of revenue in nonprofit – earned and donated. Development is the department that deals with donated funds. It derives from the fact that you are developing relationships with donors. In addition to donations, in every nonprofit, including the Whale Sanctuary Project, there is also earned revenue, where the organization is paid for a product or service. This ranges from merchandise sales to services being rendered to another group or company for a fee).

I know how a responsible nonprofit with projects of this scale should be set up. When I look at a nonprofit, I look at two things. First, how is the board of directors structured? Second, are the financial records readily available and transparent?

Let’s look at the WSP board of directors, which has remained the same since its inception in 2016. They are Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, former Cousteau Society executive Charles Vinick, and our old buddy David Phillips of Earth Island Institute. A fifth seat was later added for renowned ecologist Carl Safina, but it was vacated last year.

Three of the board members – Rose, Vinick, and Phillips – served in management or executive positions on the Free Willy-Keiko project. Vinick also serves as Executive Director of WSP, a position that Marino held for the organization’s first year.

There is no diversity in this board, as the four members are very similar in experience and outlook. This would be fine if the WSP were still operating as a grassroots organization, but it now has pledges in the millions of dollars and is getting close to finalizing the analysis, cleanup, and permitting for its first sanctuary facility.

The board membership does not properly reflect the stakeholders in the development of its sanctuaries. There are no current or former members of government agencies, no former politicians, no lawyers, no outside businesspeople, no Native American or First Nation representatives, no current field research scientists, and most, interestingly, no members of the zoo or aquarium community – John Racanelli of the National Aquarium and Ron Kagen, former CEO of the Detroit Zoo are very open to the sanctuary concept. When Port Hilford was named as the location for the organization’s first sanctuary, it’s logical that either Rose or Phillips should have stepped down, to be replaced by a member of the local or provincial community. While it is true that a number of stakeholders in these categories are advisors to the board, none of them are actually board members, and that’s a red flag.

Now, at this point, you’re most likely about to yell at the screen and to ask me to stop speaking out of my ass, which I’ve been known to do. So, I’m upping this a level and going to the authorities.

On April 4, 2023, during a streamed Q&A session, Marino stated that WSP will apply for accreditation of its Port Hilford sanctuary with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and that WSP, along with two other sanctuary organizations has developed guidelines for GFAS on cetacean sanctuaries.

So here’s what GFAS has to say about board makeup:

Boards of Directors or Trustees serve a critical role in governance. The duties and size of the board will vary based upon the state requirements for nonprofits and the articles of incorporation and bylaws for individual organizations.

Boards serve a very important role. Ineffective boards put sanctuaries at risk, while an effective, well- functioning board will reduce a sanctuary’s risk level across several reputational risk categories.

Boards are governing bodies that serve legal, ethical and practical functions for the organization. The board should serve the role of financial oversight and support fundraising, policy development and strategic planning, as well as oversee and evaluate annually the performance of the executive director.

In some situations and depending on state laws, the founder or director may serve as a board member. This can be advantageous to ensure the board is kept well apprised of daily operations, needs and challenges of running the sanctuary, but can also become problematic and put the sanctuary at risk if the founder or executive director is serving in a voting capacity or has too much influence over the board’s decisions. It is ill-advised for a founder or executive director to serve as chair of the board, as this compromises accountability and diminishes trust in the sanctuary by potential funders and partners. It is equally bad practice to have a board whose comprised of friends and family of the founder/executive director.

An effective board provides strategic oversight and guidance that can mitigate potential organizational risks. It is the role of the board to step in and provide correction if the sanctuary is heading in the wrong direction or being mismanaged.

An effective board not only evaluates the performance of the sanctuary’s executive director, ensuring they have the skills and experience needed and are effectively leading the sanctuary, but the board should also periodically evaluate itself to ensure it is comprised of the right people, bringing the right skills and expertise to advance the sanctuary. Term limits also should be in place for board members.

The Whale Sanctuary Project prides itself on its Platinum Transparency status on Guidestar. Thanks to that platinum transparency, five more red flags have popped up:

These are five key checks and balances for transparency and accountability of a board of directors that are missing.

Let’s move on to financial records and financial transparency. Whale Sanctuary Project does not publish audited financial statements nor annual reports. It does make its tax filings public, but some information that would appear in financial reports is lacking in the form 990 and its supplements. And while WSP publishes revenue and expense charts along with a balance sheet on its Guidestar page, they’re the bare minimum and key details are missing.

One thing I want to see disclosed is information on restricted donations. I have gone through the organization’s tax filings from 2016 through 2021, and no restricted donations are listed for any of those six years. Restricted donations are those that have restrictions on what the funds can be used for. Restricted pledges are donations that do not become available until certain criteria are met. There are different ways an organization can record them – either when the pledge is made, or when the funds become available for use. By my estimate, WSP has between $5 million and $10 million in restricted pledges.

In 2016, The Whale Sanctuary launched with a million dollar pledge from children’s toy manufacturer Munchkin. The May 5 press release stated “Funds from Munchkin will be used for an extensive site search, which involves studying the unique geographic, oceanographic and anthropogenic conditions of a number of possible coastal locations, and a strategic plan for building and operating the sanctuary as well as transport and care of the first animals.”

But were these restricted funds limited to those actions only? Or were they unrestricted funds that could go to other things, like cell phone bills and salaries?

If Lori Marino wants to see what it means to have a responsible board structure and financial transparency, all she needs to do is step out her front door. Marino lives at the Best Friends sanctuary in Kanab, Utah and Best Friends Animal Society happens to be one of the most reputable operators of sanctuaries and shelters in North America. Best Friends has a well developed board structure and makes its audited financial statements and annual reports available on its website. As does The Elephant Sanctuary. As does the Performing Animals Welfare Society (PAWS). As does the National Aquarium. As does People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).

If you want to endorse, support, and donate to WSP, go ahead. I’m not here to stop you. But I won’t be doing it for the above reasons.

5. Who killed Kiska

I rarely question the will of these animals to survive – I don’t think it’s up to us to say whether those with self-awareness are better off letting go of this life. But she has finally done so and frankly, now that she is gone, I can say it – I think she is better off.

I understand how powerful the motivation can be to help an injured animal and do everything possible to keep her alive, but there are times when death is in fact a mercy. I honestly believe only humans are frightened of death – other self-aware beings seem to understand that fearing what is inevitable wastes far too much psychic energy.

– Dr. Naomi Rose on the passing of Winter the dolphin, Nov 12, 2021

On April 10, 2023, the Toronto Zoo euthanized Sampson, a 25-year old grizzly bear. He was memorialized in a public ceremony replete with indigenous customs.

When Lolita/Tokitae/Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut dies, there will be ceremonies in Florida and Washington State, led by Lummi traditions. And the four businessmen and the politicians behind the deal will walk away as heroes for trying, regardless of whether she lives for another decade, or dies in transit, or dies tomorrow.

Kiska didn’t get any of that. No Native American or First Nations tribe adopted her. Neither the park nor the City of Niagara Falls held a public memorial service for her, despite both having profited off her for decades. She was necropsied and buried in a landfill in the back of the park next to the remains of hundreds of other dead animals.

I really grieve for her trainers, who cared for her and loved her, but were limited by the restrictions placed upon them by her owner. They are not the villains here.

So who killed Kiska?

I did.

And you did.

The park and the city did.

The politicians in Toronto and Ontario did.

The activists and the scientists did.

The lawyers and the journalists did.

The sanctuary developers and the public display industry did.

Little Tommy Smith in Mrs. Thompson’s class in Edmonton did.

And nobody did.

Nobody killed Kiska.

Her body and her mind determined that it wasn’t worth the effort to exert any more energy staying alive, and they shut down.

Call it old age, call it her environment, call it an infection, consider it a combination of factors. Call it whatever you want, we know one thing.

Kiska died without having seen another orca for eleven years.

And who’s responsible for that?

Everyone who knew that something was happening and didn’t do anything or didn’t do enough was responsible.

Addendum April 21, 2023

As a result of this post, I have entered into a number of very good conversations regarding Lolita/Tokitae and what should happen with her. Some of these have been with individuals promoting her move directly to the Salish Sea and some are with those against or with reservations. A few of those conversations have been with highly reputable individuals that I respect who have had long term investments in fostering a better life for her.

I fully expected people to go after my writing as a result of this post. So far, I’ve only encountered one individual who tried to discredit me on social media, and they way they did it is utterly ridiculous, which is why I’m sharing this. I’m hoping that others who wish to discredit me will learn from this error and vet their facts before posting the pure minimum of content out of context.

To counter this blog post about who killed Kiska, this human person (as compared with a non-human person, like an elephant or a cetacean or ape, though they could be an ape in a lab at a keyboard. I don’t know.) decided to go after my character, rather than the content of the post, citing my bio out of context in an effort to show that I am a “pro-cap voice.” I have long said that I find it odd that those who support the keeping of animals for public display have freely accepted calling themselves pro-cap, as it’s short for pro-captivity. It’s an intentionally negative term invented by the movement against captivity, members of which refer to themselves as anti-caps. The term pro-cap implies that captivity, a horrible term, is perfectly ok. I’m certainly not ignorant enough to call myself pro-cap. I volunteer with organizations that help women and children exit the sex slave industry and those that are victims of domestic violence. I’ve volunteered with animal shelters. I’m quite familiar with the horrors of captivity. And I am certainly not an advocate of it.

This individual shared the following lines from my bio in an effort to position me as a pro-cap writer.

Joe Kleiman is a twenty year veteran of the attractions industry (twenty-five when you include an internship taking care of birds at a major theme park).

During this time, he has worked with or provided services to:

Zoological Parks (zookeeping)

  • SeaWorld California, San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco Zoo, San Francisco, CA

The bio is available by hitting the ABOUT button in the menu tab at the top right of this page.

This information is all true, but, as I said, it’s taken out of context.

Here is my history on these two positions I held, which would have been available to this individual had they just asked me or browsed my LinkedIn profile. The information’s all there.

I did an unpaid summer internship at SeaWorld San Diego’s Aviculture department for school credit when I was 17. That was 35 years ago.

I volunteered as a zookeeper assistant at the San Francisco Zoo, starting in 2006, while I was applying for veterinary school.

What this individual did not mention, because they don’t appear on this blog’s bio, and because this individual failed to do his/her/their (I apologize as I’m not familiar with this individual’s pronouns) due diligence, are my many years volunteering with marine mammal stranding groups and my years of volunteering with animal rescue shelters and disaster area animal rescue groups.

This individual also failed to mention that I have never received a payment or salary from a single zoo, aquarium or theme park. But he/she/they wouldn’t know that because he/she/they didn’t actually research my history or even bother to ask. My employment in the attractions industry has been with museums and commercial IMAX theaters – and these places that I worked and managed don’t house animals.

This individual also failed to mention that I’ve never proclaimed myself to be either pro-cap nor anti-cap. My concern is protecting the well being and dignity of animals in these facilities. If that means moving them to the wild, then that’s the best option. If that option’s not possible due to who controls the animal or health issues or government regulations, then the conditions in the facilities need to be improved. I believe the animals’ safety, comfort, and both mental and physical health should be at the center of all efforts. I’ve expressed this fully over the years in blog posts and on social media.

As Hunter said, “If you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not doing your job as a writer.” I therefore consider myself a good writer.

I will not be responding to further attacks from this individual because I’ve learned that arguing with people with blinders on is just like arguing with a horse wearing blinders. The horse is still going to kick you.


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