A Whale and Her Family


Kasatka in 2001 with former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove.

Following the sad news yesterday about the death of killer whale Kasatka at SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld wrote that she had been “part of our orca family.”

But Kasatka was never part of their family. Quite the opposite: she’d been captured and taken from her true family off the coast of Iceland in 1978 when she was about a year old and still just a baby.

During her life, Kasatka was transferred from one aquarium or marine park to another, and then to another, 15 times. Over the years, she was artificially inseminated, including from Tilikum, who, like her, was captured from Icelandic waters at a young age. She gave birth to two daughters and two sons, and she had six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The youngest of the grandchildren, Kyara, died last month when she was just three months old.
“If you truly love somebody, set them free.”

SeaWorld posted a memorial to Kasatka, calling her “The Matriarch.” If she had grown up with her family in the ocean, Kasatka might indeed have become the matriarch of her whole extended family, which, as far as we know, is still swimming the waters of the North Atlantic as a unified pod.

In the wild, an orca baby is surrounded by her family: her mother, aunts, grandmother and often great-grandmother, who play an active part in raising the calves and who carry the knowledge and culture of the whole social group. Instead, the family to which Kasatka gave birth in captivity is spread across three marine parks, separated by thousands of miles – an unnatural, indeed tragic, matriline.

kasatka-infection.jpgKasatka was first diagnosed with pneumonia in 2008, and was being treated for a recurring bacterial respiratory infection ever since. (Her last calf was conceived in 2011, when she was already suffering from this infection.) A recent photo on the Voice of the Orcas website shows a deformed lower jaw and some serious skin problems.

Kasatka’s trainers and caregivers talk and write about how much they loved her. But there’s little evidence that she felt loved or that she reciprocated their feelings. While she generally behaved as required in exchange for food, she sometimes fought back against her captivity, once attacking a trainer, Ken Peters, and dragging him to the bottom of her tank.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that incident, however, is that, rather than drowning him, she let him up for air, took him down again, and then let him go. Apparently, she felt she’d made her point.

The saying goes that “if you truly love somebody, set them free.” So, if the people at SeaWorld truly love the whales in their concrete tanks, now would be a good time to take these words to heart. And while Kasatka’s family have never seen beyond the walls of their concrete tanks and cannot just be set free and released into the ocean, there is certainly a good alternative: retiring them to seaside sanctuaries.

Just as the National Aquarium in Baltimore is planning to retire its dolphins to a warm water seaside sanctuary, marine parks would do well to start the necessary planning for their captive whales to be retired to a cold-water sanctuary of the kind that the Whale Sanctuary Project is creating.

This would make it possible for them to live out their lives in an environment that’s as close as possible to their natural habitat while still receiving the very best of human care.

The whales have given their lives to entertaining people and bringing profits to the marine parks. It’s time to return the favor by giving them back as much as possible of what has been taken from them.

15 Comments On “A Whale and Her Family”

  1. I totally agree! It sickens me how with all the evidence and knowledge that is known now that Sea World just keeps being Sea World! 😡
    I use to go but after learning about the Orcas & Dolphins I refuse to support them any longer and my children & grand children have boycotted them as well and we all keep spreading the word on the Orcas behalf! When they were exposed in Black Fish it finally took a toll on Sea World and opened a lot of eyes around the world! I pray that one day there will be no more captive Orcas or any marine life put on display to profit from! That the human race will finally get it and observe all of them safely in the wild! Laws need to be changed for sure & education and much needed protections put into place so that this does not continue! I have seen a huge movement over the last few decades and Keiko of Free Willy was just the tip of the ice berg before the big crash was exposed to the world!!! I hope that Sea World once and for all stops all the lies & deceptions they continue to carelessly show & convey on a daily basis! They really should be ashamed of themselves! It’s embarrassing that their behavior just keeps continuing after all the exposed data on them!!!

    Angered & Sorrowed,
    Pamela Goulart

  2. Wonderful article. Keiko was quite sick when he was taken from Mexico and he thrived in his sea pen. We will never know if Kasatka would have overcome her illness in a seapen because Seaworld never gave her the opportunity. Very, very sad like for Kasatka. I am very anxious for the sanctuary to be built.

  3. Thank you for all you are doing to create a seaside sanctuary.

    Yes, it’s possible that some employees at SeaWorld “loved” Kasatka. . . in the same perverted way that plantation owners loved their slaves–fondness for those they kept in slavery to make them a huge profit. And the sadness? Sure, it’s about having one less slave for profits.

    SeaWorld is responsible for Katsatka’s death and for her years of suffering in captivity.

  4. Thank you for the stories you tell.

  5. Everything about theses wales is so sad. 😔 It makes me so mad. I would give anything to see the day come when all the wales get to live the rest of there lives out in sanuaury’s. Think of how happy they would be.
    Those people that keep them in those small pools have made enough money on those wales.
    LET THEM GO NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!! 🐳🐬🐋🦈
    Let all the larg wales, sharks,and Dauphins go.

    • I have to tell that this project is one of the best thing that happened. As a Journalist student and a very harder animals defender, I feel bad for this extraordinary animals and a feel guilty and shame for humans that do this kind of thing. I’m very proud of this project and I’m always helping as I can, even when I just talk to a friend about it. I’m looking foward to this Sanctuary!!

  6. Thank you so much for writing this important and factual story. One that will travel in large circles of those that care for these mammals. KASATKA gave the only life she knew after capture, to S.W. She was used for her productive abilities and allowed to disenegrate before our eyes.
    This is truly a very sad (and repeated) Sea World whale’s tail.

  7. please tell me what we need to do to (deleted) Sea World down for good?? I am sure people all around the world will do it. Please tell me. They need to be shut down.

  8. Why these and other miraculous creatures are doomed to live their unfortunate lives in captivity?! Who could dare to interfere their destinies, insolently and cruelly caring only for money instead of lives of others??!!

  9. I am truly sorry to hear about those whales.every time I hear something like this, I feel saddened
    that more people don’t get involved to stop such
    awful happenings.

  10. Pingback: The Other Side of the News AUG 2017 | ThemedReality

  11. Stop this practice of taking whales out of their habitat. Enough.

  12. I just want to say thank you for this project. I am currently holding a fundraiser to raise as much money as I can for this purpose and mission. Please visit my site and donate as much as possible. Every dollar helps. Let’s give these amazing creatures the sanctuary they so deserve.

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