Recently an organization from Canada called “NoWhales In-Captivity” made a public statement on Facebook regarding Shouka and the petition that was circulating to get Shouka a companion.
WHALE ACTIVISM 101: “The orca Shouka was kept alone at the Six Flags whale jail in Vallejo, California, but last week after much protest, the whale jail shipped Shouka out to another facility and closed the orca tank forever. This is the kind of victories we need!!! However, well intentioned people like Lynn Unsworthand others, were promoting a petition that instead of demanding the closure of the tank, demanded that the whale jail buy and bring another whale to keep Shouka company. Please, let this be a lesson: NEVER EVER EVER urge a whale jail to buy more whales!!! ALWAYS fight to close the tank forever instead. Thank you to everyone involved with this successful campaign :)”
At no time did this petition ever demand a whale be purchased for Shouka’s companionship as stated in the post from No Whales In Captivity - “well intentioned people like Lynn Unsworth and others, were promoting a petition that instead of demanding the closure of the tank, demanded that the whale jail buy and bring another whale to keep Shouka company. Please, let this be a lesson: NEVER EVER EVER urge a whale jail to buy more whales!!! ALWAYS fight to close the tank forever instead.”
We are being contacted by individuals who signed the petition, questioning the post because they did not remember seeing the petition stating for the purchase of another whale. No Whales In Captivity has been corrected several times through personal messages regarding this statement and has been asked personally by Wendy Brunot to remove it from public view for numerous reasons.
- The posting is degrading to every individual who signed the petition, over 7,000 people.
- The posting is a false statement and is being passed around as truth.
- They are publicly shaming individuals for signing the petition.
The post remains after the request to remove it. Not one time did No Whales In Captivity contact Wendy Brunote or myself regarding the wording on the petition and why we worded it that way nor did they even allow the post for Wendy to be able to make a public comment regarding what they were saying. A strange public apology was made to Wendy Brunote regarding this post and other people’s comments such as this one from
No Whales In Captivity is also taking credit for closing a tank at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. This organization did nothing for Shouka but leave her to sit in confinement. On a Facebook post dated August 22nd, 2012 No Whales In Captivity stated “We were concerned because there were some well-meaning folks who wanted to get a tank inmate for Shouka, when we were pushing for the closure of the orca tank instead. And we won!
Where? When were they pushing for the tank closure at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom? Because not one group would stand up for Shouka’s rights or fight to close this tank down in the three years we have been concerned about Shouka. Not one organization stood up to help us fight for Shouka’s right, not one.
No whales in captivity is taking the meaning of the petition along with the good efforts of many indivduals out of context and using it as a victory for their cause.
There is a dark history between the organization” No Whales In Captivity” and Shouka that this organization is not sharing with the public.
In 2002 a male wild caught orca named Kshamank was to be imported into America to be a companion for Shouka. Many organizations worked to try to block the importation of Kshamank. Kshamenk’s importation was stopped by the high court of Argentina.
Shouka arrived to the United States theme park Six Flags Worlds of Adventure before Kshamenk’s case settled in court which meant Shouka would not have a companion while living at Six Flags, a violation of the Animal Welfare Act in the United States. I was told by Annelise from No Whales In Captivity “If it wasn’t for our work (and other groups) since 1992, Six Flags would happily be buying more whales right now.”
The darkness with Shouka now comes into play No Whales In Captivity KNEW Shouka was alone since 2002. They did NOTHING for Shouka. No Whales In Captivity did not continue a fight for Shouka when they knew she was alone…. instead they left a victim behind due to their style of advocacy work. They left a “whale” to live a life of isolation with no concerns for her all out of fear.
After the courts denied the importation of Kshamenk No Whales In Captivity among the other groups working on these matters could have campaigned to have Shouka’s permit revoked under the law and could have actually won most likely since the law was on their side. Thus closing a tank long ago. Instead they allowed Shouka to sit alone all this time knowing it was a violation of the law and it was due to advocacy work of many organizations. To claim this as a victory but downgrade the individuals who signed the petition for Shouka is outrageous to me and many others.
Another victory that No Whales In Captivity claimed to me was Bjossa being moved from Canada to SeaWorld. “In 2001, we closed the orca whale tank in Vancouver by simply opposing ANY new inmates coming to Vancouver.” No Whales In Captivity claims it to be a victory because they closed a tank down even though Bjossa remained in captivity. No Whales In Captivity stated to Wendy Bruno “our strategy is to discourage the companionship argument because it perpetuates whale jails“. This is a total disregard for American law and the rights of cetaceans in captivity. On the website for No Whales In Captivity they state they are a law-abiding organization yet they supported the law being violated regarding Shouka remaining alone by not standing up for her rights as an organization and working to close down a tank with which housed only one “whale”. Moving a whale from one park to another leaves the animal still in captivity and I am not sure if this is really a victory in itself. We do not feel Shouka being moved to SeaWorld is a victory yet we do feel her being with others orcas is a victory for Shouka. We certainly can not claim a victory for closing a tank because we have no idea what will be placed in Shouka’s old tank as of right now. The park is not announcing what is happening with that tank until 2013.
What is not being acknowledged by No Whales In Captivity is this above stated strategy leaves animals suffering alone in captivity such as Shouka. To me personally this organization is no better than those who keep whales in captivity. This organization does not care about the actual welfare of the animals nor their rights by law while in captivity, they care about shutting down a tank as stated by Annelise from No Whales In Captivity. This organization only cares about shutting down a tank even if it means the whale goes from one tank to another such as the case with Bjossa.
No Whales In Captivity worked to try to stop the importation of a some dolphins from a Taiji hunt into a Canadian park, which was a violation of Canadian law. The groups efforts went unheard and the dolphins were imported anyways. Once the dolphins went into captivity the group admits they stopped working on the issue even though it was a violation of Canadian law and the dolphins remain in captivity to date.
The petition clearly stated the concerns were the violation of the law and that Shouka have a compatible companion. The concern of Wendy Bruno and the over 7,000 people who signed the petition was not shutting down a tank…they were concerned for the well being of Shouka and her trainers. No Whales In Captivity is trying to shame people who actually cared about the welfare of a captive orca all in the name of “proper advocacy that they claim works”. Shouka is no longer at Six Flags and as of right now that tank sits empty without using their strategy.
I was told by No Whales In Captivity ”Eventually, our local whale jail will run out of cetaceans. It works. And that’s why we want everyone to know that this strategy works: close the tanks! We disagree on strategy, that’s all “
There is no disagreement on strategy as the work that was done by Wendy Bruno and myself came from the heart. There was no strategy involved. We had empathy for Shouka and so did the individuals who signed the petition. We watched as Shouka’s behavior changed over time. We cared about Shouka and what would be best for SHOUKA, not the CAUSE. The CAUSE failed Shouka. No Whales In Captivity did nothing over the last ten years for Shouka nor did they have a public campaign to fight to close the tank at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. They were content with Shouka just dying off alone. Yet they claim a victory for their cause?? They closed a tank?? I am confused since it was their cause that helped keep Shouka in the position she was in leaving Wendy and other individuals to come and clean up the mess they left behind using THEIR strategy.
I am Thankful for the work of the past efforts and these organizations for without them we would not have come as far as we have with regards to captivity issues. I though will not allow any organization to claim credit for something the people did with no help and distort a situation for their benefit.
I will not apologize for helping Wendy with the wording in the petition nor will I apologize for helping Shouka have a better life in captivity. I did not place her in captivity, nor have I been involved with these issues for 20 years or more, which by now laws should have been changed through the efforts of organizations such as No Whales In Captivity by now so that no organization needs to live in fear of helping a cetacean because another animal may have to move from another park to be a companion.
Marc Bekoff stated-
“Let’s make this the “century of global compassion, the era of empathy” and get rid of negativity once and for all. Perhaps a good resolution is that we will all try to do better for animals – both non-human and human – and earth and work for more peace and justice for all. We can and must keep our hopes and dreams alive and putting compassion and empathy on the front-burner is a must, and we must do it now”
So for those of you who signed the petition please do not feel guilty. Please do not be ashamed of your efforts. Shouka is in a better place and doing better. Please be proud you stood up for an animal’s rights when no one else would. Please know that you are a better person for caring about Shouka, not just the cause. Please do not allow others to disgrace your efforts for Shouka or any other animal that may need help in captivity. Until the laws are changed no animal should be left behind in captivity all in the name of animal rights and welfare. It is time for a change… the old ways of thinking “JUST CLOSE THE TANK!” is not the answer today. Today is a new day, one of compassion & empathy, one where new advocacy is needed for the animals in captivity. They do not have a voice, they depend on us. Please stand up for them and we all can continue to get the laws changed and eventually phase out the keeping of cetaceans in captivity as well. And please do not allow organizations who have no efforts towards helping captive animals who are suffering due to violations of the laws blind you. In the end it really is about the animals rights AND working towards changing the laws.
THANK YOU EVERYONE THAT HELPED SHOUKA!
I would like to note that credit must be given to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Marineland France for doing right by Shouka…. well at least the best they could or saw fit for her. These corporations did not have to make the choice they did for Shouka, they could have easily placed another dolphin in with Shouka and called it a day. Six Flags will take a minor loss of patrons but they did it. I hope that they will learn, be cautious and even more responsible on how they replace Shouka’s show in 2013. Who knows lots of people want a new roller coaster.
#Toronto Star’s front page! “Inside #Marineland ” – unhealthy water, chronic short staff, and animals suffering at popular tourist attraction!! Please Share! —— NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.—Larry lies behind bars in a pen, his eyes red and swollen. The harbour seal with “an amazing little personality” who arrived at Marineland about eight years ago is now a shadow of his former self. After repeated exposure to unhealthy water, he has gone blind. Larry isn’t the only sea mammal living in distress at Marineland, the sprawling attraction in Niagara Falls. In extensive interviews with the Star, eight former Marineland staffers describe a pattern of neglect that has repeatedly resulted in animal suffering. What the public doesn’t see is the deterioration of marine mammals that become sick, suffer fur loss, skin damage and even blindness because of recurring water problems, they say. They also point to chronic staffing shortages that leave trainers unable to provide a minimum standard of care for animals to do well in captivity.
John Holer, owner of the Niagara institution for 51 years, denies there are problems with water quality at the park and that unhealthy water has harmed marine mammals. He says there is more than sufficient staff to look after the animals. “All our facilities are legal,” he said. There are no government regulations for sea mammal captivity in Canada. The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a self-regulating industry association, first licensed Marineland in 2007 and national director Bill Peters says there have been no complaints. Its licence was renewed for five years at the end of September 2011, after a summer inspection by a CAZA team of experts. Among several troubling incidents at the park between last fall and this spring: Sea lions Baker and Sandy had to be pulled repeatedly from the water and confined in dry cages, in one case for more than two months, to limit further harm to their already damaged eyes. Videos shot in 2011 and 2012 shows them writhing in pain or plunging their heads into a single bucket of clean water. Sandy often sits like a statue, dry as a bone. There’s no lens in Baker’s left eye. When a trainer put him back in the water in April, he barked and it flew out. On May 28, baby beluga Skoot died after a two-hour assault by two adult male belugas in an incident former trainers say points to understaffing at the park. The evening attack unfolded in front of a guide untrained and helpless to intervene. The males bit Skoot’s head and body, spun her around by the tail and bashed her into a rock wall where she stuck. After two trainers finally arrived to pull Skoot out of the pool, she convulsed and died in their arms. Holer says Skoot was attacked because she had contracted bacterial meningitis, explaining: “If animals see another animal is going to die, they kill it.”
Five female dolphins — Sonar, Lida, Marina, Echo and Tsu — swam almost continuously in bad water in a concrete pool in a facility called the barn. Former employees say they lay at the bottom in murky green water or breeched and thrashed wildly, their reactions changing with the chemicals. Their skin fell off in chunks, their colour darkened and they refused to eat. This lasted intermittently for eight months, from October 2011 until just before show season began in May 2012 when their water was changed. There are other problems at the facility. Walruses, which crave attention in captivity, are confined sporadically in cramped, waterless pens. Since November 2011, the park has kept a lone orca (killer whale), a practice banned in the United States because the complex, highly social mammals require the company of their own species. Six of the park’s seven seals are blind, have impaired vision or have had serious eye problems because of exposure to unhealthy water, former trainers say. One trainer recalls how animals often squinted at trainers and struggled to perform after chlorine spikes in the stadium pool. Poor conditions drove some of the eight former employees to leave and were a major factor in the departure of others. Former employee Phil Demers resigned this past spring after 12 years as a senior trainer, worn down and frustrated by his inability to help the animals in his care. “I realized I was no longer part of the solution. I was part of the problem,” he said. “I can’t train animals that are sick and compromised.” “For me it was a dream job,” said former trainer Angela Bentivegna, who left the park in 2008 after four years. “Over the years, I started to see the reality and it wasn’t as magical as I thought.” The Star obtained photos, videos and documents that support the accounts of the former employees.
Three made the difficult decision to speak out publicly, despite having signed non-disclosure agreements. Five asked that their names not be used for fear of legal consequences. Adult visitors to Marineland pay $48.53 a ticket; children 5-10 pay $35.95 at the privately owned facility. During two telephone interviews, Holer insisted that his operation has never had a problem with water. He denied animals suffer or that there are too few trainers. “We take care of the animals — better than I would take care of myself,” he said. He said there are no skin problems and no sea mammal is kept out of the water in “dry dock.” He repeated, including in reference to Skoot’s death: “You have to understand . . . for people and all living things, there is a time to live and a time to die.” Holer said he’s responsible for the water. He explained that test results three, even four times a day, plus outside lab readings, allow him to determine “how healthy the water is” and make adjustments. Holer acknowledged some animals have eye problems but says they are treated with ointment. He blames these problems on aging. Former employees say Holer willingly pays for medication once animals are sick. The principles of water chemistry at the facility are the same as in any pool, albeit on a larger scale. Marineland has a system of sand filters and uses a combination of adding chlorine plus external ozone filtration to try to stop the growth of bacteria and algae and keep water chemically balanced, clean and healthy. Record books from one former supervisor log a history of problems with the various pools from March 2011 to March 2012. He described the water as stagnant and flat in the barn, stadium and Aquarium pools. Although water periodically improved, he and Holer were never able to find a permanent solution to the problems. The effect on the animals, he said, was devastating. “It got so that I didn’t even have to test the water when I arrived in the morning. I could tell just by looking at how sick the animals were,” the former supervisor said. “If you don’t look at them, there’s no problem. What hurt me most is those animals in those pools. They can’t go anywhere. They can’t get out. They’re stuck.” He didn’t encounter water problems at Friendship and Arctic Coves, two other pools at Marineland. The worst water was at the Aquarium, a dank, foul-smelling place with an underwater viewing area for sea lions and seals, and the barn and connecting stadium pools, according to the supervisor and former trainers. Off limits to the public, the barn is a converted factory made of concrete with pens and small pools for walruses, sea lions and seals and a dolphin pool. A small skylight provides the only natural light and photos show rusting on pools with crumbling, grime-encased sides. Dolphins that depend most critically on sonar live in a concrete world. It was in the Aquarium facility that sea lions Baker and Sandy, both about 20, were kept out of the water for weeks at a time last winter and spring with their eyes screwed tightly shut.
The sea lions have been trained to open their eyes so staff can apply ointment. (Sandy died in mid-July.) Larry, about 12 years old, was pulled from the water for days or weeks at a time and kept in either a waterless pen or a metal box on wheels. Aging animals may suffer from cataracts, trainers said. But their eyes “are not red, swollen, bulbous and inflamed from age. That is from water quality,” one trainer said. Records show the barn and stadium pools deteriorated after an ozone generator breakdown on Sept. 4, 2011. The supervisor says the water turned green and serious water problems persisted intermittently over the coming months. All the animals in the pools suffered over the course of the winter and spring, Demers and the supervisor say. After the first day of green water, “the animals were in hell,” including walruses, Demers said. Smooshi had a wildly inflamed flipper, which a veterinarian said was a “chemical burn,” and Sonja’s ulcerated eye worsened. “All the animals showed signs of damage. This was one of the worst states I’ve ever seen them in.” The situation was particularly acute for the five dolphins, which, unlike sea lions, seals and walruses, are unable to pull themselves from the water. The supervisor recalls many times when the dolphins were so dark and the water so green, they were barely visible. Photos show dolphins with eyes squeezed shut. Former trainers say ozone leaks and subsequent exposure are problems that date back years at the park. Exposure to ozone can lead to respiratory problems and even death. Employees recall having to work in masks around the pools and wear tags that were supposed to turn white when ozone levels rose. Problems with the ozone filtration system also mean that water in which animals swim is being less adequately purified. “I didn’t want to leave the animals,” said Megan Cook, a trainer for six years until 2006, when she had to quit because her doctor couldn’t clear up the rash that covered her body. “I had to stay out of the water. I had no choice.” In a 2010 memo, Demers blamed poor water quality for ill health among walruses, as well as sea lions and seals. “Health issues arise in every instance, ranging from eye damage, fur loss, weight loss, stress, skin lesions (and more).” Larry and harbour seal Baby were kept in freshwater at London’s Storybook Gardens before arriving at Marineland with healthy eyes. Demers lobbied unsuccessfully in 2010 to have the park’s six harbour seals kept in a freshwater pool instead of saltwater — suggesting the carp pond with a protective fence — to limit further damage and ease inflammation and pain. In his May 4, 2012, exit interview, Demers confronted Holer about problems with the water.
“The health of the animals is terrible,” he tells his boss in the recorded conversation. “The water is destroying these animals, it really is.” “We don’t know what caused that problem,” Holer replied. A few days after Demers left, Holer dumped water from the barn and stadium pools and brought in more from Friendship Cove. The May 10 opening was delayed five days to do it. Water was not changed at the Aquarium. Former employees say that a shortage of trainers means the animals don’t get the attention they need to do well in captivity. Walruses in captivity crave human attention and yet former trainer Bentivegna says they were left days at a time in their dark barn pens with no stimulation apart from feeding. Demers says nothing has changed. Walrus vomiting and weight loss is a recurring problem at Marineland. “My observations in short were that many of the behaviour issues the animals went through (re walruses regurgitating, etc.) may have been avoided by mental stimulation and training,” Bentivegna wrote in a recent email to the Star. “The marine mammal department was constantly understaffed (as well as lack of experienced staff) so it was impossible to provide all the time and attention to the animals that was necessary for their well being.” Bentivegna says the final straw was seeing Zeus, a powerhouse walrus who knew his own strength, disintegrate into the shell of a once intimidating creature. Recent videos and photos show him sitting behind bars in a waterless space barely big enough to turn around in and looking broken-down and miserable. He was being treated for regurgitation issues — exacerbated by bad water — and the lack of trainers meant he often lay unattended in his own excrement. Marketing manager Ann Marie Rondinelli said in an email there are from 20 to 25 full-time trainers. Sources told the Star there are 16, with one on maternity leave. Former trainers cite short-staffing in the death of baby beluga Skoot. None was on hand when a two-hour assault on the calf by two adult male belugas began on May 28, and none arrived for two hours, despite radio calls from an inexperienced guide who was powerless to intervene. “There is no excuse for the short-staffing,” one of the former trainers told the Star. In 2011, SeaWorld Parks won a custody battle with Marineland for the return of its breeding male orca, Ikaika, loaned from Orlando. The case was ultimately decided by leasing legalities, but SeaWorld officials cited concerns about staffing numbers and training and said Holer refused to allow trainers to attend seminars where they could update their skills. But Lanny Cornell, a California-based sea mammal veterinarian on monthly retainer to Marineland, says in a March 2011 affidavit that trainers were experienced, adding he believed there were “approximately 18 full-time trainers on-site.”
There has been a lot of discussion to as what may best for Shouka, a 19-year-old female captive born orca, who is currently being singly housed at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo California. Singly housing an orca is a violation of Section 3.109 of the Animal Welfare Act due to the need for social companionship orcas require. Pressure has been placed on APHIS and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to correct the issue for almost 1 year now. Many people think Shouka should be moved to a SeaWorld facility in the U.S.A. and others oppose this move stating Shouka would become a breeding cash cow. Shouka would add new genetic diversity for Sea World’s in-house captive breeding program allowing Shouka to have offspring that would help keep the captivity of orcas on the rise. As of right now SeaWorld is facing a major issue with potential inbreeding with their current stock of orcas. Some people believe the move back to France where Shouka was born would be too stressful on her, despite no orca has ever died during a transport or directly after a transport. SeaWorld moves their orcas from park to park and even out of the country frequently. Some orcas have been moved several times.
Sea World is also thought to not be a good option as they have so many orcas already. SeaWorld’s holding tanks have failed to grow in size as they have continued to add orcas from their captive breeding program. At one time Sea World was recognized for having large holding tanks for their orcas, yet as time has gone on they have added many more orcas without modifying the tanks. Today many look at Sea World’s tanks to be small and over crowded which seems to be leading to more aggression towards trainers and other orcas residing in these pools. Some people wish to see Shouka go back home to France with her family and Freya a wild caught orca who helped raise Shouka. Marineland which is in Antibes, France houses just five orcas.
SeaWorld has three parks and houses 20 orcas between them – 8 in San Diego, 5 in San Antonio and 7 in Orlando. SeaWorld is housing 6 orcas in Loro Parque in the Canary Islands as well. Sea World will only continue to add new orcas in these existing pools. As of right now Sea World San Diego has one pregnant orca due soon along with another baby orca due at Loro Parque due any day as well.
Some people think Shouka should go to Marineland Canada. We have discussed this option in a previous post regarding Marineland Canada and Shouka. Also see new shocking undercover footage from Marineland Canada
While many believe Shouka should be set free to a seapen which does not exist and will never remedy the social companion issue.
Shouka could remain at Six Flags as long as another park steps up to help find a compatible companion for Shouka. One thing is for sure whatever takes place regarding Shouka’s future will way heavy on the hearts of many. If Shouka is moved to another park other than France she will be with complete strangers and that also means lots of fighting to establish dominance. There is no assurance other orcas would be compatible for Shouka at any park. The very industry that created Shouka has failed Shouka. These are things that these parks will not tell you, the needless suffering that occurs to orcas in captivity.
In the wild Shouka would make her own choices. These choices have been taken from Shouka by the industry which has failed Shouka along with every off spring she may produce in the future. There are major flaws with regards to the laws for keeping captive orcas, housing them and even interacting with them in captivity.
Promoting captivity is very challenging for us as we are opposed to the keeping of orcas in captivity. Our hands are tied in a day when seapens are the talk for captive orcas and we are forced to sway away from this option as there are no seapens & Shouka is owned by a corporation which will never give her up. We reached out to Dr. Naomi Rose the senior scientist for Humane Society International (HSI), specializing in international marine mammal protection issues to get her opinion of Shouka’s current situation. Her areas of expertise include whaling, whale and dolphin watching and marine ecotourism, the dolphin-safe tuna label, marine sanctuaries, acoustic harassment, captive marine mammals (including swim-with-the-dolphin programs), the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the sport hunting of polar bears, as well as the protection of walruses, seals, sea lions, manatees, dugongs and sea otters.
WMTINY- Based on your extensive research of killer whale social behavior, why is it important killer whales have companionship?
Dr. Rose- Killer whales are probably among the most social mammals on earth. Animal species can be solitary; found in small groups of varying composition (in other words, they group together for reasons that vary and the members of a group are constantly changing); or live in stable groups whose members are bonded for reasons that increase the group members’ survival prospects (these stable groups may be related genetically or not, but group living itself contributes to the members’ survival).
Killer whale groups tend to be extremely stable (in some cases with lifelong bonds) and are kin-based. In some populations, the basic group is a mother and all of her offspring, who remain bonded with her into their adulthood. In other groups, the kin bonds are looser and individual animals are even sometimes seen alone, but only for temporary periods. The basic advantage to living in a group for some orcas is because it increases foraging success – in others, it is because it increases survival success in general. Regardless of the advantage, the killer whale brain is wired for companionship – just as primate (including human), canine, and elephant brains are. Evolution has resulted in an animal that thrives only in a group – a solitary animal can survive, but it is unlikely to thrive.
Given that the need for being in a group is essentially hard-wired into the orca brain, maintaining captive orcas as solitary animals – when they already face physical and mental stressors, such as confined space, monotonic surroundings, lack of choice, and so on – adds an additional stressor that compounds the problems with which they must already deal.
WMTINY - How would it benefit Shouka if she was placed with other killer whales in a captive setting and what do you think it could do to Shouka mentally and physically the longer she is left in isolation?
Dr. Rose- Shouka would be more stimulated and engaged with her surroundings if she was placed with other compatible killer whales. (I stress the need for compatibility – I think being placed with incompatible orcas would be more stressful than being alone.) The longer she is left in isolation the more frustrated and possibly depressed she will become. She was born into a social group (in France) and then was placed in isolation from her own kind. This sort of social transition is no doubt very difficult and stressful for a social species like a killer whale. She literally NEEDS conspecific companionship – again, she can survive without it, but she will not thrive.
I can’t say more than this because it would be pure speculation – each orca is different psychologically. Shouka may have more resiliency regarding her solitary state than another whale might have or vice versa. We can’t know what she’ll do until she does it.
WMTINY - Just earlier this month, Shouka aggressively lunged out of the water towards her trainer 3 times during the beginning of a show that resulted in her trainers working from behind bars for several weeks without physically contact with Shouka during a show. Also, many people who have recently visited the park have commented that they have noticed there have been problems with Shouka refusing to perform. Do you think this could be due to her lack of companionship? And do you feel Shouka could become a liability to Six Flags if she continues to have aggressive moments with her trainers along with refusing to perform?
Dr. Rose- It is very tempting (and parsimonious) to attribute these aberrant behaviors shown by Shouka to her isolation. She has been without another orca for a companion for over a decade, however, and the appearance of these behaviors is relatively recent. Of course, she now doesn’t even have a dolphin with her, as Six Flags has recently moved Merlin, a bottlenose dolphin, into another enclosure. So it may be that being entirely solitary is in fact affecting her mood and she is now acting out of frustration over this untenable social situation.
If Shouka continues this behavior pattern, it may be that Six Flags will have to phase into a non-show format of displaying Shouka (although given the stadium seating at Six Flags’ facility, it’s hard to imagine how they might do that). Or they may have to consider moving her to another facility with other orcas. Obviously if she continues to refuse to perform (let alone act aggressively with her trainers) some sort of change in her circumstances will have to occur!
WMTINY – Could you expand a little bit on the killer whale brain structure in comparison to the human brain as it relates to emotional processing and do you feel from a scientific point of view that killer whales may be capable of feeling emotions we are incapable of feeling or emotions that we may not even be aware of?
Dr. Rose- You are asking for information that doesn’t exist. I am not a neurobiologist, but I can say we know nothing about the emotional processing of the killer whale brain. We don’t know how they process a lot of things – we do know that the orca brain has a very well developed auditory processing area, which makes sense given their dependence on acoustic cues and echolocation, but otherwise the analogs with the human brain are only in the early stages of understanding.
As for whether orcas can feel emotions we are incapable of feeling, that doesn’t make much sense from a biological (scientific) point of view. All mammals probably have the basic capacity for feeling certain similar emotions, such as fear, attachment (affection), depression, and even humor and shame. Whether any non-human animal can distinguish between like and love or feel nervous or be disgusted is unknown but I find it hard to believe that species with sophisticated brains cannot feel sophisticated, subtle emotions. However, given that humans have brains that are clearly capable of extremely sophisticated feats of cognition, the idea that another species with a sophisticated brain (such as orcas) can feel some emotion we can’t feel is difficult to imagine, but obviously anything is possible. Just not probable.
I’m really not sure what you were trying to get at with this question – orcas are mammals, just as humans are mammals. We share some common traits as mammals – and we share some other less common traits, as mammals with sophisticated brains. I DO think orcas think thoughts that we would no doubt find pretty foreign, but I really doubt they feel emotions we wouldn’t be able to recognize.
WMTINY - To your knowledge, is Shouka being kept in isolation a unique situation or have there been other killer whales in captivity that have been housed without another killer whale or dolphin in the same tank or separated by gates?
Dr. Rose- Shouka’s situation is unfortunately not unique. Keiko was held in isolation in a tank in Oregon and later in a sea pen and then unconfined. Lolita has probably been held in isolation periodically over her long life in the Miami Seaquarium – her dolphin companions have come and gone. Same with Kshamenk in Argentina – he has no doubt had periods where he has been entirely alone. Morgan was held in isolation for over a year separated from dolphins by a gate.
WMTINY - How do you feel about Shouka being isolated from companions of her own species for so long?
Dr. Rose- She has been isolated from companions of her own species for over a decade. I think every orca that does not have another compatible orca for companionship is living in the equivalent of solitary confinement for humans. It is a form of punishment in human culture and frankly I don’t see it as anything different in the orcas’ case. They are being punished for nothing at all – and the facilities holding them refuse to accept this and act as though this extremely aberrant social situation is normal.
WMTINY - What do you think is the best option, at this point, to immediately improve Shouka’s situation?
Dr. Rose- The best option to immediately improve her situation is to send her to a facility with other orcas, who will hopefully be compatible with her socially. It is wrong to hold her isolated from other orcas and it is absolutely untenable to hold her without any cetacean companionship at all. Her behaviors and mood will probably continue to deteriorate until she has SOME companion once again in her enclosure. Ideally and pragmatically, I think she should be repatriated to France, where she can once again be with her family.
The question of whether or not working in close proximity with killer whales has been all over the news since 2010 when Tilikum, the killer whale, killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau during a public performance at SeaWorld Orlando. After this incident Six Flags was asked for a statement as to whether they will make any changes regarding working with their killer whale Shouka. Six Flags stated Shouka has a good history with her trainers but now the tables have turned.
A new video released on youtube captured Shouka, a 19 year old captive born orca, attacking her trainer during a public performance. The footage was uploaded on July 7th, 2012 by traviscorbin using an Android phone.
The short clip of the original footage shows Shouka leaping onto the main stage of her show tank lunging towards her trainer which eventually leads to the trainer being lifted into the air and knocked back into the open door area that leads to the back of the stage. Shouka continues to leap two more times onto the stage even after the trainer is out of our view. This is the first time Shouka has been captured being aggressive towards her trainers by a spectator during a public performance. The show was immediatley cancelled after the incident.
Here is the original video clip
We have uploaded the original video and slowed down the actual contact Shouka made to the trainer. This footage shows what happened a bit better as it widened the view from the original Android phone. We also added light to the original footage which has made it a little easier to see the trainer and what is occuring.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has not made a public statement regarding this incident between Shouka and her trainer but they have stepped up their safety measures. During a regular show, one of Shouka’s trainer always stands on the stage along with the annoucer. The stage is now empty during the show and trainers have placed themselves near the audience behind safety bars. There is no contact with Shouka during the show…no hugging, no kisses, no touching, just fish thrown at her.
Shouka is rumored to be rather moody & aggressive towards her trainers at times and no water work has been done publicly with Shouka since her move to the United States in 2002. Almost a year ago the male bottlenose dolphin named Merlin that was living with Shouka was removed leaving Shouka to be singly housed with no animal companion, which is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. Other orcas that have been housed alone have been known to display more aggressive behaviors towards their trainers. Once these singly housed orcas were placed with another orca the aggression ceased from them. Orcas by nature are extremely social beings. With no companion and now limited contact with her trainers, what will this do to Shouka mentally?
There has been a huge amount of public pressure placed on Six Flags Discovery Kingdom along with APHIS to enforce the law and find Shouka a compatible companion over the last year. Upon inquiry to APHIS regarding Shouka’s situation along with the clear violation of the law they have stated that Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is working to find a solution. The matter of Shouka being singly housed may be something Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is working towards but how long is this matter going to take to solve? The bigger question is how long will APHIS continue to allow this matter to go unresolved. The problems Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is facing is how do they met the needs of Shouka or what do they do with Shouka. Shouka is on a breeding loan to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom from MarineLand France, yet this is the 10th year Shouka has been here in the United States with no off spring or known attempts for breeding and almost half of her time spent in the U.S has been in isolation. How long will MarineLand France allow Shouka to remain under these conditions of solitary confinement? Shouka has some family members in France. The biggest problem is there are no orcas to place with Shouka. All the captive orcas are owned by other parks and no one is taking from the wild any longer. SeaWorld Inc. seems to get first dibs on any orcas that do come from the wild such as the case with Morgan. In the ten years Shouka has been in captivity here in the United States Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has not been able to obtain a orca companion for Shouka. It has been scientifically proven orcas have high social needs. Shouka living alone is the equivalent to a human living in solitary confinement with another species other than humans being their care takers. Shouka is another example that Orcas do not belong in captivity, as humans just can not meet their needs.
To Learn more about Shouka’s situation and what you can do CLICK HERE
YOU CAN SIGN A PETITION TO FIND SHOUKA A COMPANION BY CLICKING HERE
To learn more about the history of killer whales in captivity, their social behaviour and their wild counterparts, pick up a copy of the upcoming book by New York Times bestselling author, David Kirby.
ATTENTION WILD ORCA FANS!
ANNOUNCING “DEATH AT SEAWORLD DAY” – TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2012
On July 17, St. Martin’s Press will release the highly anticipated expose, “Death at SeaWorld – Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity,” by bestselling author David Kirby. “Death at SeaWorld” follows the 20-year fight against the captive marine-mammal industry, culminating in the tragic death of Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau and its turbulent aftermath.
Please join thousands of whale and dolphin lovers around the world by pledging to visit your favorite local bookstore on July 17 to purchase a copy of this game-changing book. Even if you have already pre-ordered a copy, please consider buying another one on DASW Day to give to a friend, neighbor, library, school, or SeaWorld supporter.
Louie Psihoyos, Academy Award winning director of “The Cove” called the book “Entertaining, engaging and enraging: The fairy tale fantasy that the captivity marine mammal industry has spun for the unwary public is expertly unraveled in this non-fiction crime thriller.” And Jane Goodall rightly noted that “Killer-whale captivity only benefits the captors. It is impossible to read ‘Death at SeaWorld’ and come to any other conclusion.”
Killer whales deserve our support! Help get “Death at SeaWorld” on the bestsellers list – it will raise awareness about the plight of captive whales, and spark a national conversation. Take the pledge now.
ALSO: Become a DASW fan on Facebook: www.facebook.com/deathatseaworld and follow #DASW on Twitter: @deathatseaworld
Here are some upcoming book release events thus far for David Kirby’s Death at SeaWorld. So stay tuned and please share this schedule with interested folks. Thanks!
Saturday, October 6, 2012 New Hampshire 1:00-3:00pm
202 Old Rochester Road Somersworth, NH 03878
David Kirby will be making a New Hampshire stop on his New England tour to read from his book, discuss its contents, and sign copies. This event is limited in size: PLEASE ONLY REPLY IF YOU ARE PHYSICALLY COMING.
Please Sign Up at Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/events/155439717930643/
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
West Hartford, CT 7:00-9:00pm
Barnes and Noble Blue Back Square 60 Isham Road West Hartford, CT 06107
David Kirby will discuss and sign his book and recent issues in the news pertaining to killer whale captivity. Sponsored by Cetacean Society International.
Please Sign Up at Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/events/445347275515797/?fref=ts
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
6:30pm – 9:00pm
4014 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Free screening of the documentary “Lolita – Slave to Entertainment.” Lolita is an orca confined in a small tank at the Miami Seaquarium since 1970 when she was taken from her family pod. Tim Gorski, writer, director and editor, will speak about his experiences filming the documentary.
Followed by David Kirby, who will read from “Death at SeaWorld” – Books will be on sale for signing.
Sponsored by Sea Shepherd Philadelphia and local humane education organization, 22reasons.
This event is free, but seating is limited, please reserve your spot early! Please Sign Up at Facebook Page:
Tuesday October 23
Barnes and Noble Colonial
Colonial Plaza Market Center
2418 E Colonial Drive
Orlando, FL 32803, 407-894-6024
David Kirby will be joined by orca expert, marine biologist and Humane Society Senior Scientist Dr. Naomi A. Rose, and Colleen Gorman of The Orca Project.
Please Sign Up at Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/events/373315159420002/?context=create
With the pressure on Six Flags to find Shouka, their star killer whale a new compatible companion, news of her move is being discussed among attorneys. It was announced on May 17th, 2012 that Shouka is still on a breeding loan from Marineland France to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California and a contractual dispute is occurring.
“That park loaned a killer whale to a Six Flags in California for breeding purposes. But suddenly Six Flags wants to give the animal away to an unrelated party in Canada. Now, the parks are in a contractual dispute over one very large marine mammal named Shouka.”
This announcement brings another surprise, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is trying to relocate Shouka to a facility in Canada which just last year had a killer whale removed from their park due to not “caring properly for him“. SeaWorld Inc. had loaned a male killer whale to Marineland of Canada in 2006 and last year were forced into suit with Marinleand Canada to get their killer whale back. Marineland Canada filed suit against SeaWorld in retaliation to SeaWorld’s request to bring Ike back to SeaWorld…it became a bitter custody dispute with SeaWorld prevailing in the end.
The removal of Ike from Marineland Canada left the facility with only one 35 year old female orca named Kiska. Transferring Shouka to Marineland Canada is not in the best interest of Shouka. The laws in Canada regarding captive marine mammals are not as strict as U.S.A. laws which means the quality of care for an orca in Canada do not meet the minimum requirements of U.S.A. laws. If Kiska was to die, Shouka could be allowed to remain alone with no law to fight for Shouka’s rights in place. Orcas are extremely social beings. To live alone would be equal to a human being living in isolation for the remainder of their lives.
This move by Six Flags Discovery Kingdom proves they are not able to properly care for Shouka under the current U.S.A laws and are finally being forced to figure something out. Many believe that the best interest for Shouka would be to go back to France were she was born and also has some siblings who still reside there. In France Shouka has a sister, brother, half-brother, nephew and an unrelated older female with whom she lived the first 9 years of her life. France also raised Shouka for the first 9 years old her life and have more experience with Shouka.
Shouka had been singly house for the last 7 years with minimum access to a wild caught dolphin named Merlin. Also for a short time another bottlenose dolphin named Cupid had been housed with Shouka and Merlin. Six Flags trainers had hoped Cupid and Shouka would be able to perform together by Christmas of 2008. In the end Cupid was removed from Shouka Stadium and placed with other bottlenose dolphins that reside at Six Flags. In 2011 it was observed Shouka was no longer being housed with Merlin and she was all alone. Merlin had been moved to another part of the park with other bottlenose dolphins due to incompatibility issues between him and Shouka. With public pressure placed on APHIS to enforce the laws, Six Flags seems to now be defeated into acknowledging they can not properly find Shouka a compatible companion and must get rid of her but Canada is not the best option for Shouka either.
Here’s a bit of history about the orcas who have resided at Marineland Canada -
1. According to Zoocheck Canada, Marineland Canada has exhibited 29 killer whales since 1970 and only one orca resides there today. Out of the 29 killer whales they have owned 9 of those orcas were transfered to other facilities with only 2 of those orcas still alive today. Twenty killer whales have died in Marineland Canada’s care.
2. They housed “Junior” a young juvenile wild caught male orca in a warehouse hidden away from public with no natural sunlight for four years until he died. Junior was placed in the warehouse alone because he was beaten up on and did not get along with the other orcas. Footage of the conditions Junior was kept in during his time of isolation can seen in the documentary “A Fall From Freedom“.
3. All of the baby killer whales born at this facility have all DIED with the oldest living only 11 years.
1992 – Male baby lived only 2 months
1998 – Female baby lived only 11 days
1998 - Kanuck dies at 4 1/2 years old
2000 – Malik dies at almost 5 years old
2001 – Nova dies at 4 1/2 years old
2001 – Miscarriage of calf
2002 – Algonquin dies at 2 1/2 years old
2004 – April dies at 1 month old
2004 – Miscarriage of calf
2004 – Hudson dies at 6 years old
2004 – Neocia dies at 11 years old
2006 – Miscarriage of calf
2009 – Athena dies at 4 1/2 years old
4. Just in 2011 an American court of law found their facility to be unable to properly care for a killer whale and granted the killer whale be imported back to America.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom claims to care so much about Shouka publicly yet are considering relocating her to a facility which was just proven unfit for a SeaWorld orca?
New undercover footage exposes neglect & abuse happening at Marineland Canada 2012
Our hopes are that Marineland France will step in and actually bring Shouka back home. The facility in France is much larger compared to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Marineland Canada. Watch for an upcoming campaign to Send Shouka Home.
Shouka, The Killer Whale, Needs A Companion.
Why this matters
In 2002 Shouka, a captive born killer whale, was imported to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio. Shouka was originally born at Marineland in Antibes, France. Shouka was only 9 yrs old when she was taken from her mother & father in France and given to the theme park Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio now known as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Six Flags had intended to import a wild caught male killer whale living at the marine park Mundo Marino in Argentina known as Kshamenk (pronounced “shah-menk”) to be Shouka’s companion. This act alone of trying to import Kshamenk into America was a known violation by Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio. For one, Argentine law forbids export of any wild caught fauna. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) also requires that all actions associated with an import permit be legal in the country of origin. Secondly, Kshamenk’s capture was questionable as evidence and eyewitness testimony suggested that Kshamenk was “force-stranded” which is a forbidden way to capture a marine mammal under the MMPA.
Yet the U.S. governing agency of permit issuance, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), violated the very law they are to uphold, and granted the permit to Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio to import Kshamenk from Argentina. This act lead to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other groups to file a lawsuit, challenging NMFS’s issuance of the import permit. They argued that the “import permit was improper because Argentina had not granted an export permit and because the legality of Kshamenk’s capture was very much in question. We also charged NMFS with violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to complete an environmental assessment, as required, before issuing the permit.”
Shouka’s permit application was approved by NMFS even though the export permit for Kshamenk was still pending approval in Argentina. Six Flags did not wait until Kshamenk’s export permit was approved in Argentina and instead imported Shouka to Ohio four days after NMFS approved the permit. Two months after Shouka had moved to Ohio, the authorization requested by Mundo Marino was denied by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Argentina and by the Secretary of Environment of Argentina, leaving Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio with no compatible companionship for Shouka under their care.
In 2004, before Shouka was to be moved from Ohio to California, a letter writing campaign was started by “Project Thursday Child, a project of Earth Island Institute” calling on the public to “take action to help free Shouka from captivity at Six Flags Marine World”. The plea for help was asking the public to send a letter demanding Six Flags send Shouka back home to France. The pubic was also invited to join in with a leafleting campaign that was held at Six Flags, formally known as Marine World at that time. All attempts by Project Thursday Child, a project of Earth Island Institute went unheard and Shouka was brought to California. It seems by 2005 all efforts to help from Earth Island Institute for Shouka were ended.
With no way to obtain another killer whale and no back up plan if their deal for Kshamenk fell through, Shouka was to remain housed alone until they could find a compatible companion for her. Under the law Section 3.109 of the Animal Welfare Act states:
Marine mammals, whenever known to be primarily social in the wild, must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species.
From 2002 until the spring of 2004 Shouka was housed at Six Flags Worlds of Adventure in Ohio alone. In the spring of 2004 when Shouka was moved from Ohio to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California no companion had been found for. Shouka once again was alone. It had been almost 2 years that Shouka had remained living alone under the care of Six Flags management.
In 2005 Six Flags Discovery Kingdom placed a wild caught, male bottlenose dolphin by the name of Merlin in with Shouka. Shouka and Merlin would continue to live with one another until the fall of 2011. During this same time Kim II , Shouka’s father died in 2005 and her mother Sharkan died in 2009 at Marineland in France. Housing Shouka and Merlin seemed to be more of a challenge than Six Flags Discovery lead the public to believe.
In an inspection report from APHIS in the year of 2008, the agency notes the orca is “single housed;” that park officials were “using a dolphin as a companion animal but they are separated though next to each other a majority of the time.” The document, which indicated inspections done May 13 and June 5, 2008, says the “situation is being reviewed by USDA APHIS.”
No information was available regarding the USDA APHIS inspection or outcome regarding the above mentioned note.
In 2010 a group of independent individuals began protesting at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom regarding Shouka along with the dolphins housed at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Wendy Brunot, animal activist, would put together leafleating campaigns/protests using Facebook. She gathered a group of individuals who cared about the plight of Shouka and the other cetaceans residing at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The group would go to stand their ground speaking out against cetaceans in captivity at the park.
The individuals would pass out 1,000′s of pamphlets explaining the dangers of captivity regarding cetaceans, along with information about just how socially connected cetaceans are in the wild. The protest by the individuals continued into 2011. No local organizations stepped forward to help these independent individuals with leafletting or sending out any support for Shouka during these protests at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
Wendy Brunot would go onto to expose the treatment of Shouka to the public, including educating the public about tooth drilling that has been conducted on Shouka and ongoing isolation matters, with violations of the law.
All local and large marine mammal conservation organizations that were previously involved with Skouka & Kshamenk have ceased. Instead of living with their families Shouka and Kshamenk are now kept isolated from other killer whales and have been living in captivity with bottlenose dolphins. Currently there is no campaign for Kshamenk to be moved to a seapen, yet there are lots of public talk about wanting to start a campaign for his release to a seapen soon.
In the fall of 2011, Shouka’s bottlenose dolphin companion Merlin would be removed from living with Shouka due to “incompatibility issues” after living with her for almost 7 years. As seen in the photos below there were times Shouka and Merlin spent together interacting on a level that not many get to see or even understand as Shouka & Merlin’s living arrangement was pretty unique among captive orcas and dolphins.
SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG
For the first time in Brunot’s seven years of monitoring Shouka she discovered notable rake marks on Shouka in September of 2011. During this visit to the park in September 2011, Wendy Brunot was unable to find Merlin in with Shouka anywhere which prompted her to send a formal complaint of non-compliance of the AWA regarding Merlin and Shouka to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) the governing agency who is to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. Out of concern for Shouka, Brunot sent letters to APHIS in May 2011 and on September 7, 2011 regarding compatibility issues between Merlin and Shouka. APHIS responded to Brunot’s May 2011 letter but took no action.
Excerpts from Brunot’s letter sent on September 7, 2011 to APHIS
2150 Centre Ave.
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
Via: 1st class mail and email: firstname.lastname@example.org
RE: Report of Non- Compliance Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Customer ID: 27824, Certificate: 93-C-0809
“To Whom It May Concern:
Let this letter stand as a formal complaint and report of non-compliance of the Animal Welfare Act 9 C.F.R. Part 3 – Standards, Subpart E – Specifications for the Humane Handling, Care, Treatment and Transportation of Marine Mammals at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, 2001 Marine World Parkway, Vallejo CA 94589. This is not the first letter I have written about this establishment and I am asking that your agency look into these matters immediately.
According to Section 3.109 of the Animal Welfare Act, Shouka and Merlin are to be housed with at least one compatible animal.
Section 3.109 reads:
Marine mammals, whenever known to be primarily social in the wild, must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species, except when the attending veterinarian, in consultation with the husbandry/training staff, determines that such housing is not in the best interest of the marine mammal’s health or wellbeing.
However, marine mammals that are not compatible must not be housed in the same
enclosure. Marine mammals must not be housed near other animals that cause them
unreasonable stress or discomfort or interfere with their good health. Animals housed separately must have a written plan, approved by the attending veterinarian, developed in consultation with the husbandry/training staff, that includes the justification for the length of time the animal will be kept separated or isolated, information on the type and frequency of enrichment and interaction, if appropriate, and provisions for periodic review of the plan by the attending veterinarian. Marine mammals that are separated for nonmedical purposes must be held in facilities that meet minimum space requirements as outlined in §3.104.
The continued separation of Shouka and Merlin is a clear disregard of the law by Six Flags.
When I visited Six Flags at the beginning of August, this was only the second time this year that I saw Merlin and Shouka together. The show ended earlier than normal as Shouka refused to perform. After the show, Shouka laid on her back with Merlin laying on top of her. It was clear she wanted to be with him and not perform in the show. When I asked her trainer Andy about this behavior, his response to me was that this was the first time Shouka and Merlin had been together for some time as Merlin had not been feeling well. In May when they were separated, Andy told me it was because Merlin was aggressive. It’s clear that there is obviously some sort of compatibility issues with the two of them due to the large rake marks on Shouka’s body and their continued separation.
When I visited Six Flags on September 4, 2011, I could not find Merlin in any of the tanks. I sat by the viewing windows of the back pools at Shouka stadium for hours and never saw Merlin come past the window once. The back pools of Shouka Stadium though are so disgustedly murky and filthy that Merlin may have been further away from the window and I may have not been able to see him. I do not know if Merlin has been moved from this area but I do know he is separated from Shouka.
Cetaceans are one of the most social animals on this planet which is why the law states they are to be housed with at least one compatible animal. Shouka and Merlin both being separated could potentially affect the mental well-being of these animals and requires your immediate attention.
Shouka the killer whale is housed with a male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, Merlin. Previously Shouka was housed with both Merlin and another male bottlenose dolphin, Cupid. Before the park opened in 2011, Cupid was moved to Merlin’s Harbor to join the other bottlenose dolphins which left only Shouka and Merlin at Shouka Stadium. During numerous visits to the park since April, Shouka and Merlin have only been in the same tank twice and performed in shows together twice. They have been continually separated by gates. During a visit on May 30, 2011, I asked Shouka’s trainer, Andy, why they were separated and his response to me was Merlin is an alpha male and becomes aggressive towards Shouka when she is not “cycling”. I have been to the park many times since May and have only seen Shouka and Merlin together one other time. On September 4, 2011, I visited the park and again Shouka and Merlin were separated. After the show, I took the following photos of Shouka which show quite large rake marks on her body.”
No response by APHIS was sent back to Brunot regarding her letter of September 7, 2011. Brunot waited month after month to see if Six Flags would find a compatible companion for Shouka.
Getting no where and after numerous inquires to the governing agency APHIS regarding Shouka’s condition Brunot took to the public for support through an online petition in March of 2012 to place pressure on APHIS to enforce the law. Everytime a person signs the online petition an email is sent directly to APHIS. The support is there as many people started signing the petition.
This petition is very different from the usual activist position Brunot generally advocates for. Instead of asking for Shouka to be placed in a seapen, Brunot is asking that the law be enforced to find Shouka a companion. The local news picked up the story and Brunot’s request for a companion sparked negative responses from some folks within the marine mammal conservation community. Individuals became concerned that Six Flags Discovery Kingdom will seek another orca, possibly from the wild or attempt to obtain Kshamenk again or even try for one of SeaWorld’s orcas to meet the public’s desire for a companion for Shouka. Brunot was told she should be advocating for Shouka to be moved to a seapen.
Shouka is captive born with family members remaining at Marineland in Antibes, France and Brunot took deep consideration about what would be best for Shouka and what the law is. Advocating for Shouka to be moved to a seapen would still mean she would be alone. Killer whales are known to be even more social than humans. Resident killer whales, like Shouka, will remain with their families throughout their entire lives. Tight knit pods are created among killer whales consisting of a matriarch female, her offspring and many generations beyond her.
Brunot’s concerns are in regards to Shouka’s best interest and the law being enforced. Brunot wishes to someday see the end of what is known as ”self-governing” by marine parks. She wishes to see another compatible companion placed with Shouka or Shouka go back to France where she would not be alone. If there is no pressure placed on APHIS to enforce the law, Shouka may remain alone forever if Six Flags Discovery Kingdom cannot find a compatible companion. In a day when seapens & freedom for captive killer whales are the focus, Brunot has gone against all the norm of “just free them”.
Brunot is well-known for her anti-captivity work against marine mammals in captivity. She has worked with The Orca Project, Jeff Ventre, John Jett, David Kirby author of Death at SeaWorld and many others who are working towards making changes for marine mammals in captivity. Brunot herself at one time wanted to be a SeaWorld trainer until her extensive research regarding the negative effects of cetaceans in captivity changed her outlook.
Brunot sees the issues of captive killer whales more than just a Black and White situation. Captive killer whales like Shouka fit into the gray areas in between. Shouka is not a free orca. She is owned by a corporation which does not wish to see her freed. Advocating for a seapen could take years to fight for, finance and then it could take years to build a seapen if this was the outcome. She says Shouka right now is in need RIGHT NOW and the law is being violated. Shouka had lived alone for over 2 years when she was originally brought to America and she is/has been living with what Six Flags Discovery Kingdom claims to be an “incompatible companion” for long enough, as they have finally removed Merlin. Now Shouka is back to being alone once again.
“Shouka did not ask to be born into captivity, the least she deserves as long as she is in captivity is companionship.” W. Brunot
Although as a citizen, Brunot is not alone. As of right now her petition has reached 1,175 signatures with the numbers growing daily. Shouka’s story has been reprinted by numerous news stations across the U.S. and Brunot states she will continue until the laws are changed or enforced.