Environment

“Kiska,” The World’s Loneliest Orca Has Lived in Captivity For Over 40 Years That Is “tantamount to torture”

Kiska was first captured in the Iceland Sea in October 1979, and has survived alone in the tank for the last 11 years and has been exhibiting a stereotypy—an abnormal repetitive behavior—that involves swimming to one particular part of her enclosure and thrashing her body.

“Kiska,” The World’s Loneliest Orca Has Lived in Captivity For Over 40 Years That Is “tantamount to torture”
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A killer whale named Kiska has been held captive in MarineLand, a themed zoo and amusement park in Ontario and has come to be known as the “world’s loneliest orca” living in conditions “tantamount to torture.” 

Kiska was first captured in the Iceland Sea in October 1979, and has survived alone in the tank for the last 11 years, with experts highlighting that under such conditions, “orcas exhibit a wide range of abnormal behaviors and often die at an early age from infections and other health conditions that are uncommon in a wild setting,” according to a study published by Newsweek. 

Orcas are highly social beings that cannot survive in isolation

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior suggests that orcas are highly intelligent and social beings and have one of the largest and most complex brains in the animal kingdom, which makes their survival in artificial settings extremely difficult. 

In a comment to Newsweek, one of the authors of the study and the founder of the Whale Sanctuary Project, Lori Marino, stressed that for years, Kiska has been exhibiting a stereotypy—an abnormal repetitive behavior—that involves swimming to one particular part of her enclosure and thrashing her body, which suggests chronic stress and possible neural harm to specific parts of her brain. 

Marino further opines that Kiska’s “welfare is quite poor,” adding that during her years of captivity “she had five children, and all perished at young ages. That experience for her was likely extremely traumatic, as family bonds—especially between mothers and children—are extremely tight and important for orcas.” 

Her concerns have been seconded by the nonprofit Orca Rescues Foundation that opined that Kiska “has lost everything and gained absolutely nothing from her existence as a captive orca,” noting that aquatic “mammals like her are not meant to be solitary. They need each other not only for survival, but for mental and emotional health and fulfillment. Those who have seen her over the years note her lethargic, disinterested and repetitive behavior.” 

Kiska is exhibiting chronic stress symptoms

Over the years, Kiska has also lost all her teeth and is often observed swimming in counter-clockwise circles around her empty tank, which the Foundation says is indicative of the “the worst state of any captive orca.” 

Like Kiska, dozens of such killer whales are being held in captivity around the world to their detriment. Orcas have an average lifespan of 30 to 50 years in the wild, although they spend substantially shorter lives in captivity. To this end, the Canadian government in 2019 approved a legislation to ban the keeping, breeding, and trading in cetaceans for entertainment purposes. 

Welfare activists and researchers including Marino now hope to give Kiska a new and reformed home in a 100-acre sanctuary for captive orcas and beluga whales in Nova Scotia that is being developed by the Whale Sanctuary Project by the end of next year. 

(With inputs from Newsweek)

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