How could an animal be given the title of “world’s loneliest?” It’s because, for half of Kiska’s life, she was isolated — the only orca without family and friends around her. Her story of being a captive started in 1979 when she was captured in the North Atlantic Ocean. Along with the other four orcas, she occupied an aquarium in Iceland. Keiko, the killer whale from Free Willy, was one of her companions — they were eventually sold to MarineLand, an amusement park in Canada. However, their companionship didn’t last long because Keiko got transferred to another park in Mexico. Unlike Kiska, the Free Willy star had a chance to live in a rehabilitation center and finally went back to the ocean.
Later on, the female killer whale gave birth to five calves. It might have been the end of living a solo life, but all her babies failed to survive. The incident brought so much pain to Kiska — orcas are known for understanding complex emotions and being empathic toward others. Losing friends and family is also a big deal for them, as they are socially and emotionally intelligent beings. MarineLand searched for a male companion and confided with Busch Gardens. Their discussion ended with the decision that MarineLand will offer four Beluga whales to SeaWorld in exchange for a male orca. MarineLand acquired a killer whale named Ikaika, but he was too young to breed with Kiska. For this reason, he remained as Kiska’s companion along with the other four female orcas.
Apparently, the male killer whale had dental problems that became severe. Although treatments and pain medications were provided, SeaWorld believed that they had better management. They took the issue to court, and SeaWorld won. MarineLand was forced to let him go and shipped him back to the United States. Loss after loss, it was inevitable for Kiska to develop depression. It’s saddening for killer whales because social engagements are vital for them. Even when MarineLand convinced the public that Kiska was happy, witnesses proved she was showing signs of depression.
Kiska was ironically the most well-known animal in MarineLand, yet she was the saddest one. Witnesses have uploaded footage of the killer whale floating spiritless or bashing her head against the wall. They say Kiska looked lifeless, which has raised questions from marine activists and concerned citizens. Among those witnesses was a former staff member of MarineLand, Phil Demers — he even shared a video of Kiska on Twitter. It was certainly alarming, especially since she had been alone since 2011. Animal Justice, an activist group, filed a legal complaint against the poor management of the amusement park. A lot of people supported their action — Kiska has earned global support, which is expressed on social media. They were rooting for her freedom so she could retire in a place surrounded by other killer whales.
UPDATE: We have more heartbreaking video of Kiska, MarineLand’s last surviving orca floating listlessly at the surface of her concrete pool. She has lived in complete isolation since 2011. Witnesses say she often calls out for other orcas. #FreeKiska pic.twitter.com/TWyw9x781B
— Phil Demers (@walruswhisperer) July 16, 2021
The long fight for Kiska ended with heart-wrenching news. At the age of 47, the loneliest orca in the world and Canada’s last captive killer whale was announced dead. Her demise results from bacterial infection, which was stated in an announcement by Ontario’s government. Marine activists were also disappointed at the fact that they were so close to freeing her. Four years ago, Canada had already banned the captivity and breeding of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Kiska became the driving force to implement protection for marine animals. However, those that are already captured are excluded from the scope of Canada’s bill s-203. The fight did not stop there though – Kiska’s supporters protested for her at Niagara Falls. Moreover, complaints and retirement plans for Kiska were already laid out.
MarineLand has undergone inspections since January 2020, led by Ontario’s Provincial Animal Welfare Services. They investigated the place 160 times, but the theme park stated that they did everything to provide a comfortable place for Kiska. Although heartbreaking, the killer whale’s death boosted the determination of activists to fight for better animal protection. She sparked the fire that will never be put out until complete protection rights transpire. Animal Justice has asked the government to provide the full details regarding Kiska’s postmortem examination. “When I heard that Kiska died, I just bawled, which I almost never do. It’s frustrating for so many people, because it felt like we were so close to being able to get her out, and she just couldn’t hold on long enough,” Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, said.
Kiska might have died but the movement continues — MarineLand is still under fire for the mistreatment they always denied. “There’s very little positive to take away from Kiska’s death, but a lot of animals have died similarly, whereas at least she will be recognized as the last, and the orca that largely created and inspired bill S-203,” Phil Demers said. Animals are meant to be free and not just used for business. May Kiska’s death motivated people around the world to spread awareness about animal cruelty happening in certain zoos or theme parks. Kiska might not have experienced physical pain, but she was emotionally and mentally mistreated. Let her story be known so others may understand that feeding or giving space for captive animals is just the bare minimum. They are worthy of a good companion, a healthy environment, and retirement in their natural habitats.Whizzco