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Controversial Move By Animal Activist Rocks The Boat

May 14, 2012

Shouka, The Killer Whale, Needs A Companion.
 Why this matters

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

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.

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

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.

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot

Image courtesy of Wendy Brunot


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:

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.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. janice permalink
    July 27, 2012 3:36 am

    Hi Guys,
    We bonded last night @book signing. I’d like to sign the petition about Shouka. I’ll be out of computer range until Aug. 5th, but I’d like to help with the boycott or anything when I return. It was great meeting you. I definitely would like to see you again.


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