By Cara Wilson-Granat
This is the eighth in a series of ten in which we meet one of the San Diego 10 orcas and hear from an advocate who continues to be one of the voices of these imprisoned voiceless, never stopping until the whole world listens.
After reading about Prisoner #8, Ikaika, please scroll down this article and “meet” one of the top San Diego 10 Prisoner Advocates! This week’s Advocate is Heather Heffernan. [Here are the other orca Prisoner profiles - Orca Profile #1 and #2, #3 ,4 #5 , No. #6 and No. #7.]
Prisoner #8: Ikaika
Ikaika (whose name is Hawaiian for “Strength”) was born at SeaWorld Orlando on August 25, 2002. His mother is Katina and his father is Tilikum (the featured orca in the movie, Blackfish).
Ikaika was Katina’s fifth calf. One of the others born to her was Taku. The two orcas, Ikaika and Taku were very close and spent much time together over the years, often performing with Katina.
But then in 2006, Ikaika (“Ike”), at the tender age of four years old, was separated from his mother and siblings—something that would never happen in the wild—they stay together for life. Orcas develop close bonds with their kin and it’s quite traumatic for them to be taken away from each other. But because the emotional state, or family bonds of these marine mammals are never considered in the captive world of the SeaWorld prison, Ikaika was nothing but a trade, a commodity, a breeding machine to be used at will. So Ikaika was moved to Marineland Ontario, while Taku was sent to SeaWorld, Texas.
It’s important to note what it means to “move” or “transport” an orca. Even though the transport is attended by veterinarians and animal-care specialists throughout the process, the whole procedure involves a tremendous undertaking. The added stress is very hard on these sensitive marine mammals already living lives fraught with stress within alien and inappropriate chlorinated environments which are the antithesis of their ocean habitat.
The orcas are put in a sling; once secured in this sling, they’re lifted by a crane into a crate with water in it that allows for very limited space for them to move around in at all. It’s like being confined to a claustrophobic coffin. They’re then placed on a transport truck, loaded onto a cargo plane and once arriving at their destination, the reverse process then takes place upon arrival—once again finding themselves in yet another alien environment.
There are several orcas who travel like this to destinations 5,000 miles away from where they started out, e.g., those on loan from SeaWorld USA to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. (We thank advocate, Michele Bollo, for providing this excellent information.)
Such was the experience for Ikaika, despite his strong bonds with his mother, he was transferred to Marineland, Ontario, Canada on a breeding loan on November 18, 2006. He was exchanged for three male beluga whales—Juno, Aurek, and Klondike—who joined Spooky within the Wild Arctic area of SeaWorld Orlando. Ike’s separation was to be a lucrative deal to breed with Nootka V, a female orca with an abysmal birthing record at Marineland. Between 1992 and 2006, prior to Ike’s arrival, Nootka gave birth to six orcas and also suffered two miscarriages. Her last miscarriage occurred just six months prior to Ikaika’s arrival. Not one of Nootka’s offspring is alive today. Nootka herself died in 2008 of unknown causes.
That left the young Ikaika to breed with the only surviving female orca at Marineland. Now 36 years-old, Kiska was captured off the coast of Iceland in October 1979. She is estimated to be the same age as Ike’s mother, Katina, and has an equally appalling birth record as that of Nootka. Kiska has given birth to five calves, all sired by the now deceased male Kandu VII. Four of their five calves were deceased prior to Ike’s arrival. The oldest only survived to the age of six. The fifth calf died at age four shortly after Ike arrived. In fact, prior to SeaWorld’s decision to send Ike to Marineland, nine killer whales that were born there all died with an average survival of only 3.6 years.
And yet with all these horrendous birth rate statistics, it was still decided that Ikaika was to be force bred with Kiska.
But not unlike ugly custody battles that human parents have over their child, this poor orca, Ikaika, got trapped yet again, but this time within a complex system of laws, broken trust, self-interest and above all MONEY—the battle raged on between Sea World and Marineland.
At that time, sworn affidavits show that Ikaika “Ike” had chronic dental problems and high white blood counts because of constant teeth infections—which SeaWorld said could have been caused by stress(!). Unfortunately, Ikaika’s dental problems were similar to many other orcas in captivity—who also suffer from myriad bacterial diseases, stress and aggressive behaviors, breeding incompatibilities, and much more because of the unnatural state of being captive and separate from their pods. In one of these affidavits, SeaWorld revealed that it sedates the orcas in its care – a bombshell which hit the humane advocacy social media in late March/early April.
In Canada, Ikaika had to continually be separated from Kiska because he would bite her. He does have a history of aggression, often of a sexual nature, which began with an attempt to breed a young calf at Sea World right before his transfer to Canada. SeaWorld’s vets then sedated Ikaika twice daily with Valium to “try and mellow him out.”
But SeaWorld was adamant that Ike’s mental and physical health was being compromised and so the court battles between the two parks ensued until finally, on November 13, 2011, Ikaika was transported to SeaWorld San Diego. He was removed from the Marineland Niagara Falls park and transported by a fleet of transport trucks, a crane and more than a dozen Niagara Regional Police escort cars.
Kiska is now left alone in Canada without any other orca companions, another victim of solitary confinement. And, until we do diligence on behalf of the SeaWorld orcas, Ikaika will continue to be cast into another forced, unnatural family structure—where he’ll be bred (naturally and/or artificially), confined to the whims of an abusement park and the paying public unaware of how their money is being spent. And at what cost to some of the most precious beings on the planet…
Heather Heffernan is an elementary school teacher in San Diego, and has taught every grade from Kindergarten to 6th Grade. A rescue mom to her beautiful Boston Terrier, “Bianca,” Heather is relatively new to the animal activism world. But she attributes one key moment to what triggered her passionate involvement in it—which includes advocating for performing elephants, tigers and all circus animals, as well as standing up against vivisection, and speaking out against puppy mills and the local connection to pet stores in San Diego County.
What was that pivotal moment that transformed her forever? Heather recalls it distinctly.
“My life changed when I saw the documentary, The Cove, which is about a killing cove in Taiji, Japan. Every year, from September 1st through March, Japanese fishermen go out in twelve banger boats in search of dolphins. (NOTE: the boats when banged on loudly make a jarring noise which scares the dolphins.) When the fishermen locate a pod, they drive them into the cove using banger poles. This banging creates a wall of sound from which the dolphins and small whales swim away.
Using these banger poles, the fishermen drive the dolphins straight into the cove. When the dolphins are netted off inside the cove, trainers from the local captive facilities come to pick out the most beautiful to be brought to captive facilities and held for a life of imprisonment. The rest of the dolphins, those deemed “not beautiful enough” are brutally slaughtered.”
Ever since Heather saw that chilling documentary she has been forever dedicated to advocating for dolphins and orcas, becoming an on-shore volunteer for the Los Angeles Sea Shepherd chapter. The reality of captivity for animals has struck a deep chord in her soul and she sees the cruel intent behind the horror of such a practice. Heather says that,
“…all this killing comes back to the captive industry. If there was no demand for captive cetaceans, this killing would not happen either. After seeing “The Cove,” it changed the way I looked at all places that hold orcas and dolphins in captivity.”
“I started advocating for dolphins and orcas held in captivity, ripped away from their families, forced to live with strangers in sterile concrete tanks. These beautiful, intelligent, feeling, loving beings are now forced to do unnatural “tricks” for their food.
“In their true home, the ocean, orcas are apex predators (meaning they have no natural predators in their environment.) Depending on the species of orca, they feed on fish, small mammals or even birds. They have no natural predators. When held in captivity, orcas eat only frozen, dead fish.
But Heather needed to do more than just tell others about the cruel truth behind capturing orcas and dolphins. Sitting back and doing nothing about it was killing her too. She needed to go to the source and see it all for herself. And she did.
“Last year, I decided I had to do even more and went to Taiji, Japan as a Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian. I saw the captive selection and slaughters with my own eyes. I will never be the same. As long as there is air in my lungs, I will keep fighting to keep all dolphins, orcas and small whales free.
“I recently made the trip up to Sacramento to lobby on behalf of AB2140, The Orca Welfare and Safety Act. I was proud and honored to represent San Diego, lobbying our local assembly members. Orcas are such emotional, intelligent, feeling, loving beings who have incredibly strong family bonds. What is being done to them while kept in captivity is cruel and inhumane.
“In the wild, the family bond is unbreakable with orcas. They stay in their family pod for life. Females learn to be mothers by watching their mothers, grandmothers and aunts. In captivity, orcas are artificially inseminated much too young, and are very rarely with their female family members.
“Orcas can swim up to 100 miles per day in the ocean. In captivity they are forced to swim in circles in a sterile concrete tank. In the wild, there is only one documented case of an orca attacking a human. In captivity, there have been hundreds of instances of attacks on trainers. The most well-known attacks ending in the tragic deaths of trainers.
SeaWorld has a wonderful opportunity to become the educational facility they claim to be. They can release their orcas to open sea pens and rehabilitate them for possible permanent release, or at least offer them a life free of performing and forced breeding. A life where they can live free with their family, in their pod. Seeing orcas in their natural habitat, the ocean, is the other way to educate others. Nothing can be learned by watching orcas mindlessly swim in circles in tiny concrete tanks.”
“When Ikaika was only 4 years old, he was ripped away from his mother, Katina. If he was born in the wild, he would still be swimming by her side. It breaks my heart that he was torn away from her and for what? Only to be traded to another captive facility for breeding purposes. Now his beautiful dorsal fin is already starting to collapse due to living in captivity. My dream for him is that one day, he will be released into a sea pen and reunited with his mother. Until then, I will never stop fighting for his freedom. I am proud and honored to be the prisoner advocate for Ikaika.”
This passionate teacher has truly devoted her life to educating others.
“As a teacher, I not only teach my students their standard academic curriculum, but I also teach them a curriculum of compassion. My students know all about my veganism and my activism. They know why I went to Japan and why I will not go back to SeaWorld while they continue to hold captive orcas and dolphins.”
Because of dedicated educators like Heather, there is still hope for the next generation of orca advocates; others who will stand up and defend the lives of innocent beings like Ikaika and far too many others held captive by the insatiable need for greed over compassion.
ACTION ITEM: Only 18 days left for Indie Go Go crowdfunding campaign! Nonprofit “Fins and Fluke’s” goal is to make David Kirby’s book, “Death at SeaWorld” more accessible in libraries in cities with marine parks, such as SeaWorld, Marineland (Ontario Canada), and the Miami Seaquarium. Some libraries already have a copy or two, but they are constantly on long wait-lists. Many cities have multiple libraries, but very few copies. Where the books will go:
San Diego, CA
St. Augustine, FL
Fort Walton Beach, FL
Panama City, FL
San Antonio, TX
Niagara Falls, Ontario
DONATE here and SHARE this link!
“There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery.” – Charles Darwin
Cara Wilson-Granat is an author, speaker and freelance writer. Years ago one of her advertising accounts was writing for Sea World. When she recently watched Blackfish the movie changed her perspective–and in many ways her life. (www.wordsfromcara.com)