Orca Profiles in Captivity: The San Diego 10

by on April 18, 2014 · 46 comments

in California, Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

Martha Sullivan orcademo

Advocate Martha Sullivan speaking to the media.

Activists Gear Up for Easter Protest at SeaWorld

By Cara Wilson-Granat

Dame Jane Goodall (famed British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace) was asked a question. “Why did she do what she did for the chimps she has advocated for all her life?” She answered by sharing a true story.

A captive lab chimp had never lived outside a cage his entire life. Now freed by Jane and her team of researchers and scientists, the frightened primate sat and watched the other chimps in a large zoo compound—free of cages and offering grassy, rocky, chimp-appealing offerings, including the sight and sound of others like him. He was terrified by such a contrast—from darkness to light.

A growing crowd of onlookers watched silently as the terrified chimp was being acclimated to his new world and then in a united gasp of disbelief witnessed the chimp run and fall into the watery moat surrounding the enclosure. Not knowing what to do, never having experienced being in water before, he began to flail in terror and sink.

At that, a man in the crowd instantly jumped over the railing, dove into the water and pulled the huge ape up and out of the water to safer grounds. The man was even able to get there faster than the watching zookeeper who was as horrified as were all the on-lookers. The man made sure that the chimp was breathing alright. Climbing over the railing back to the crowd he turned to see the chimp yet again running in fright and falling back into the water. Again, the man jumped over the railing, lifted the heavy, flailing chimp back up onto the grassy enclosure and waited until now the chimp seemed to realize that he was home and calmed down.

After what seemed like eternity, everyone observed the chimp being welcomed by the others in the troop and appeared safe at last. Finally, someone in the crowd turned to the man and asked him, “Why did he do that? What would compel him to risk being killed by a huge, drowning ape that could have easily mauled him in fear?” And the man said simply, “I looked into his eyes.”

This is the beginning of a series in which we will introduce The San Diego 10, the longest-held captive orcas and tell their story. And we will also help you meet some San Diego 10 advocates, representing millions worldwide, who have also “…looked into their eyes.”

Prisoner #1:  Corky (photo)

Age: About 47

Captured: Dec. 11, 1969, in Pender Harbour, British Columbia

Corky, (once known as Shamu) one of the oldest living captive orcas, is one of the most promising candidates for full release to the open ocean because because conservationists know her pod still spends part of the year in Johnstone Strait, off of Vancouver Island.

On the Save the Whales website (founded in 1977), this is what they say about this magnificent mammal who has suffered a lifetime of hardship by Sea World in the name of “entertainment.” Since her capture from her pod Corky has been, “…walked on, ridden on, climbed over, and made to perform foolish tricks in order to obtain frozen fish. How different the world of concrete, frozen food, and thousands of gawking people aiming their cameras is from Corky’s true home. If she had not been captured at the age of four, she would be living in the waters off the northern shore of Vancouver Island with her family group, the A5 pod.”

Corky has given birth to seven calves in captivity, all of whom have died. Her mate, Orky, died 18 months after the pair was transferred from the now defunct Marineland to Sea World. In a freak accident, Corky was attacked by another female, Kandu, who perished in the assault. It was horrific for all who witnessed such a tragedy.

Corky is also used as the “Welcome Whale” for new trainers and new orcas. She has also “adopted” some of the whales she has been with. She has been a surrogate mother to Sumar, Orkid, and Keet. Corky is easy to identify, mostly because of her large size for a female, her tall unbent dorsal fin, the small ‘chips’ in her dorsal fin, and a nick in her left dorsal fluke.

For many years, Dr. Paul Spong (New Zealand neuroscientist and cetologist; a member of Save The Whales scientific Advisory Committee; Greenpeace; and OrcaLab, Alert Bay, B.C.Canada), along with other environmentalists, have been pressing for Corky’s release. But still after all this time, efforts at diplomacy and friendly argument failed to persuade Sea World of the benefits they could reap from Corky’s release. One of the arguments posed was that of orca longevity. Sea World only sees its need for Corky as a commodity and not truly seeing all that she is, have turned a blind eye to this beautiful being.

It’s quite possible that Corky will never be freed from her cement confines nor gather with her beloved family once again and speak the distinct dialect of her pod. Though opposite what Sea World believes, that orcas only live to be around 35 years old, there is scientific evidence to the contrary. In the wild, orcas live to be 70 and beyond. But Corky is in prison and her health is fading. Her kidneys are not functioning well. She has stopped ovulating, her teeth are worn down and she is almost blind in one eye. When she is not forced to perform, she is held in one of the back tanks with eight other captive orcas. Mostly she passes time by endlessly circling her tank.

Lack of exercise, poor diet, and emotional stress, all shorten the life of a captive orca. As Dr. Spong expressed so well, “What orcas are displaying in these tanks is a caricature of the real orca—almost a shadow—when you consider what the orca is like in the ocean.”

There is a good chance that Corky’s mother is still alive. Wouldn’t that be an incredible reunion to witness? Highly intelligent and sensitive, Corky might still remember her family; the “Free Corky” page at Whale and Dolphin Conservation reads, “She visibly shook and vocalized poignantly when a tape recording of her family’s calls were played to her in 1993.” We can only pray that she will be given that chance to be with them in her own ocean home some day soon before it’s too late…

Prisoner Advocate: Martha Sullivan (Photo)

Martha lives in Del Mar Terrace and moved to San Diego County 13 years ago. She is a small business owner selling fine art and collectibles online, after a 25-year career in state government and in consulting. For the past 10 years, she has been a volunteer grassroots community organizer, and helped to keep the defective San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant shut.

When asked about the work she does on behalf of the Sea World captives, this is what she says based on her knowledge of the information released by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, “At least 137 orcas have been brought into captivity from the wild since 1961. There are 124 of them that are now dead, surviving an average only four years in captivity. Three of these 13 survivors are here in San Diego: Corky2, Kasatka and Ulises. When do they get to retire, after 35-45 years in captivity and performance? Why is it so unreasonable from SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s perspective to provide retirement facilities for these long-serving beings who by SeaWorld’s insistence have been crucial to its financial success? Are these survivors doomed to perform until they die?

“To me, the for-profit performing animal industry is the epitome of the mega-corporation that exploits its workforce for the enrichment of the 1%. In addition to exploiting these intelligent, socially sophisticated marine mammals, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. characterized unions and collective bargaining as a threat to profits in the prospectus for its Initial Public Offering (IPO) last year — and it has done so since it opened in San Diego 50 years ago (and SEIU picketed it).

“I live and work in San Diego, where this industry was founded 50 years ago and today is home to the 10 orcas held in captivity in California. I consider it a sacred mission to secure more compassionate and ethical habitat for these highly intelligent fellow mammals whose family and social bonds are just as strong if not more so than ours. Also to end the unethical artificial breeding that completely ignores these animals’ natural history and produces Frankenorcas.”

Watch for the next in this series, featuring Prisoner #2, Kasatka, and her Prisoner Advocate.


EASTER SUNDAY (April 20, 2014): 10-1pm

Sea World Drive @ Sea World Way

Free Parking Available in the South Shores boat launch parking lot off Sea World Drive, then walk about ½ mile west along Sea World Drive to the demo intersection.

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)

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill April 18, 2014 at 11:37 am

Great article and looking forward to next. I saw the video of Corky hearing the recordings of family. Heartbreaking!


Teresa Wagner April 18, 2014 at 11:41 am

FREE CORKY! And the other nine.


Lori Saldaña April 18, 2014 at 11:47 am

Thank you for this! Excellent report, wonderful approach: make these whales part of our community, as more than entertainers. Some of them have lived in San Diego longer than the children taken to see them. They are our neighbors, not just large charismatic megafauna, conveniently placed in tanks for us to see if we can afford the entry fee.

I’ve been realizing that these whales are basically trafficked victims, bought and sold for other’s entertainment and deprived of their right to live freely.

Or perhaps, to use the Sea World mantra: they more like “refugees” than “ambassadors.” Ambassadors earn (often via political contributions) the right to travel and represent another culture, and do so willingly. Refugees and trafficking victims have been abducted, or have unwillingly fled, from their homes and culture and suffered deprivation and hardship along the way. Often they leave friends and family behind who never know what became of them.

I’d love to see schools in San Diego teach more about orcas and other animals, from this humane approach towards all animals in captivity: where they came from, why they are in their current captive state, what may have happened to their original families and homes, and what students can do to protect those places and the animal families still living there.

Children respond powerfully to these family connections. They are resonant in all fairy tales, in all cultures: innocent children are taken from their families, or their parents are killed  evil step-parents replace their loving mom/dad.

Hmmm…. I feel a new children’s illustrated book idea coming on… any graphic artists out there want to collaborate?


Melanie Cuno April 18, 2014 at 5:34 pm

YES! Me! Come find me on twitter @alpine999 I would love to work on a project like this. I just finished a painting depicting a captive orca as a puppet.


Taj May 6, 2014 at 10:33 am



Elizabeth Jacobelly April 18, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Very heartwarming and touching article. Each and everyone of these animals in captivity is an individual with their own life and story. Thank you for writing these article to personalize these highly intelligent and social mammals. I look forward to reading the next article Kasatka and her prisoner advocate. Lori, that would be great if their were some children’s books on this topic. I am in the process of writing a curriculum on animals used for entertainment to go into the school. No books are out their on this.


Cara April 18, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Thank you, dear Liz! Much appreciated. Looking forward to hearing your perspective as well. You have been and continue to be such a beautiful advocate for these precious beings. I am so grateful to you for being there for them! I wish you great success in the writing of your curriculum on animals. So important.


Gavin April 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Unfortunately, Seaworld is not there to be reasoned with. Their reasoning only takes place in a court room. May karma catch up with them one day!


Cara April 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm

It will. It always does…


Lori Saldaña April 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

I think some animation movies (“Madagascar” “Blue” ) touch on these themes of separation/loss, but without getting into the ugly reality of habitat destruction, extinction, etc.

Or even if they do, it still has a happy ending: the kidnapped animal is reunited with another member of its species, and/or travels back to their “homeland” for amazing adventures… hmm….


Jeffeck April 18, 2014 at 2:36 pm

You should be in church on Easter Sunday worshiping the Creator instead of the created.


Cara April 18, 2014 at 2:46 pm

They are one and the same, Jeffeck….


joyce April 18, 2014 at 2:57 pm

amen……let the orcas go
and while your at it
please help all the animals
that are held captive in terrible
conditions….in factory farms
and the people all over the world
held in inhumane conditions
to make stuff for people
time to open our hearts
and care


Cara April 18, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Yes. We are not only addressing the suffering of these precious orcas but of all beings–human and non-human–living insufferable conditions. I have faith that together we can change the world, one being at a time. We can and will do it! Thank you so much, Joyce.


unwashedwalmartThong April 18, 2014 at 11:24 pm

I’m neither pagan nor christian, so I just might skip Sunday’s arcane festivities & join the protest.
Typical religionist trying to tell the rest of world what to do on a weekend.


Elizabeth Jacobelly April 19, 2014 at 12:33 am

I will be worshing in church Easter Sunday as I am every Sunday praying for the animals. Then I will be out physically doing Gods work by advocating for all living creatures. This Sunday will be the orcas.


Cara April 19, 2014 at 6:53 am

Beautiful, Liz. There is nothing more spiritually fulfilling of a Higher Plan than loving and living for the true Angels surrounding us–Animals. Bless you for blessing those sacred orcas…


da john April 19, 2014 at 9:29 pm

You must have missed Tyler the Creator at coachella, it was last weekend, not this one.


Taj May 6, 2014 at 10:37 am

I feel humans are the scariest animals on this planet-
We have much to learn from our larger brained brother and sister mammals whom have been evolving for millions of years- We are feeble in comparison. The earth is my Church, and I chose to steward it from my heart not some old tired scripture!


Zach Affolter April 18, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Great article! Thank you so much for doing this and highlighting each of the 10, each at the mercy of the ignorant and harmful hands of mankind. Please wake up humans!!!


Cara April 19, 2014 at 12:26 am

You said it, Zach! Oh if only the Sea Worlds of the world would wake up. I have hope…


Amy April 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Shame on San Diego for backing up this outdated, embarrassing and horrific freak show, sea circus. These animals are in prison. Prison is not the place to observe actual behaviors of a species. The ocean is their home. Go whale watching instead. Thank you for this series.


Cara April 19, 2014 at 12:23 am

Amen, Amy! Thank you!


Heather April 19, 2014 at 12:49 am

This a beautifully written piece. I look forward to reading all the profiles on the San Diego 10. I hope SW will do the right thing and retire these amazing orcas. It breaks my heart to see such intelligent, social, loving animals reduced to performing circus tricks in a concrete, chlorinated tank. It’s despicable.


Cara April 19, 2014 at 11:05 am

Thank you, Heather. I believe that together we will do a lot of good for those exquisite orcas. Keep on expressing your views to the world. Someone is listening….


Michele Bollo April 19, 2014 at 7:14 am

The time has come with absolute certainty that what these beautiful creatures endure to stay alive in the habitat of a chlorinated, lifeless, kinless goldfish bowl is a horror show. The captors put human life at risk as well, with a massive coverup that hits all levels, though the courts on appeals have helped bring this punitive culture to light. Sea World, and theme parks modeled after them are based on propaganda! starting with the one undeniable truth: orca do not live well or long in captivity, and all their junk science can’t prove it.


Cara April 19, 2014 at 9:51 am

Keep saying and shouting this to the world, Michele. In time, I have to believe, it will be heard, understood, and positive changes will take place. Don’t stop believing!!!! Thank you so much!


Jeffeck April 19, 2014 at 8:22 am

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:18-22


Cara April 19, 2014 at 9:49 am

Saint Francis of Assisi
“Not to hurt our humble brethren [the animals] is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission: to be of service to them whenever they require it.”
~God’s Covenant with Animals, Lantern Books, 2000, xii

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”


da john April 19, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Blah Blah Blah.

Tomorrow is 4/20 in Ocean Beach!

I think you maybe preaching to the wrong crowd.


UNWASHEDwalmartTHong April 21, 2014 at 10:22 am

More platitudes from mythology.


George Above the Cliffs April 19, 2014 at 1:42 pm

All this fuss over animals in cages. Anyone care about our prisoners?


Cara April 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm

We care about everyone who is suffering in some way. One by one we need to fix and heal and work with and learn from every living being. We’re all connected.


Michele Bollo April 19, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Don’t know that the orca did anything but have the misfortune of being stolen from their home, or bred in captivity. What an odd comparison. But if you want to use that analogy, then please remember that it would be tantamount to stealing children, forcing them into tiny cells, and letting them out three times a day to work for their food, with no hope of being freed.


Cara April 19, 2014 at 3:52 pm

So agreed, Michele. But the sad thing is most humans believe that they’re superior to animals and that we deserve better treatment in life than they do. When we all see ourselves as connected, sharing the same needs then I believe life as we know it will change for the better for all species. Until then, it’s a constant battle, but one I pray will be won in time to save–and free– this planet…


John Filthy April 20, 2014 at 7:14 pm

That’s a stupid analogy. It assumes an animal could be guilty and deserve a cell. Animals kill each other all the time, it’s part of nature. When sea mammals kill they don’t get locked up in a cage at SeaWorld prison, nature goes on.

We do force human beings into tiny cells, feed them crap, and give them no hope of being freed, including children, including innocent people who didn’t do anything but have the misfortune of being stolen from their home. Who preform work for pennies (food money).

Since it’s 4/20 how many human beings are in cells because of the naturally occurring plant they chose to grow or consume? How many million human beings are in captivity in the world versus sea mammals? Man’s inhumanity to sea mammals is not a bigger problem than man’s inhumanity to man.


Martha Sullivan April 21, 2014 at 8:43 am

One article can’t address all the injustices John. I advocate for all you have described, as well as the orcas.


John Filthy April 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Thanks for that George! I boycott SeaWorld and zoos but feel like we will never learn to treat animals with respect until we learn how to do it with humans.


Cara April 19, 2014 at 3:55 pm

One and the same, John. We’re all cut out of the same life force and fabric. Compassion, kindness, love, respect, dignity–all species deserve this no matter where they are on the food chain. Life deserves and requires this harmony for all who live and breathe on this planet.


Taj May 5, 2014 at 7:44 pm

I am so grateful for the publication of this series, “The San Diego 10”- These beautiful beings deserve our attention and not in the way they’ve been receiving it.
As a San Diego native, born in 1969 and not that much younger than Corky- I have been under the SeaWorld spell; though, I have not attended the facility since childhood, I had been manipulated to believe the core values of SeaWorld were that of benevolence & altruism- And when I learned how corrupt & capitalistic the operations of SeaWorld actually are I was left forever changed. I am deeply disappointed in this notion that SeaWorld & San Diego would lose economically if the orca’s were retired with dignity & the Captive Breeding program were to be terminated- Rather than seeing how this could be a potential win, win, win for all!

I reserve hope and petition for higher standards of revenue and entertainment for San Diego.


Cara May 5, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Thank you so much for your wise commentary, Taj. You echo so many of our thoughts and wishes. Please continue your “petition for higher standards” for San Diego in the saving of these precious orcas.


Taj May 5, 2014 at 9:04 pm

I will absolutely continue, and thank you for your thoughtful reply-
Consider me part of anything which moves us closer to offering more quality to the lives of these most regal San Diego 10.


Cara May 5, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Yes, we’re all in this together. That’s what gives me hope …


Martha Sullivan May 13, 2014 at 12:17 pm

VOTERS: For San Diego County Supervisor, District 4 (Ron Roberts, 24 year incumbent virtually unopposed) — Write In “Kasatka Orca” — she’s lived in the District for 35 years and is a single, working mom! Read about Kasatka here: http://obrag.org/?p=82804&cpage=1#comment-307374.


Martha Sullivan July 7, 2014 at 10:37 am

OK, we are ON for this — Saturday, July 26th from 11a to 1p (with an hour for complete setup and an hour after for takedown), we will hold the historic, LONG Corky Freedom Banner along SeaWorld Drive, before the entrance into SeaWorld San Diego. The amount of banner we display (shipped in 24 boxes from San Juan Is., WA here) is limited only by the number of people on hand to hold it. So please “Join” to commit as a Holder of Corky’s Freedom Banner, and Invite others to join us! https://www.facebook.com/events/1439623166312858/1444008999207608/?comment_id=1444021125873062&ref=notif&notif_t=event_mall_comment.


Martha Sullivan July 25, 2014 at 8:44 am

Contact: Martha Sullivan, marthasullivan@mac.com; 858/945-6273

Return of Historic Folk Art to San Diego: Corky Freedom Banner

WHAT: Display of Mile+ Length Corky Freedom Banner

WHEN: SATURDAY, July 26, 2014, 10a-4p

WHERE: Ski Beach Boat Launch Park, Mission Bay, San Diego

The historic mile-+ long Corky Freedom Banner will be displayed within view of SeaWorld San Diego, where Corky is the longest-captive orca in the world, to launch the Corky 2 Freedom Journey, a renewal of the 1999 Corky Freedom bus tour up the West Coast.

Christine Caruso, a kindergarten teacher from Seattle, was inspired by the plight of Corky, captured in 1969 in British Columbia and held captive since. to find the huge banner handcrafted of panels contributed worldwide for the original Corky’s Journey for display leading up to the 45th Anniversary of Corky’s capture on December 11 of this year.

Volunteers will display this incredible folk art on the large grassy area between Ingraham Street and Ski Beach Boat Launch, just north of the Entrance to SeaWorld on Vacation Isle.

We will lay the roughly 5′ wide strips of handmade cloth panels stitched together, stored in 25 bins, side by side with a walking path in between for viewing.

According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, at least 137 orcas have been brought into captivity from the wild since 1961. There are 124 of them now dead, surviving an average only four years in captivity. Three of the 13 survivors are here in San Diego: Corky2, Kasatka and Ulises. When do they get to retire, after 35-45 years in captivity and performance? Why is it so unreasonable from SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s perspective to provide retirement facilities for these long-serving beings who by SeaWorld’s insistence have been crucial to its financial success? Are these survivors doomed to perform until they die?

For more on the 2014 Corky 2 Freedom Journey, see https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/corky-2-freedom-journey.

Info on the original Corky Freedom Journey: http://orcalab.org/free-corky-campaign/
Youtube 12-min video about Corky’s capture and the campaign to return her to her home: http://youtu.be/NvnPZ1X7xqY

On July 24, 2014, Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek actress Majel Barrett, was pleased to meet Christine Caruso and learn about the Corky 2 Freedom Journey and AB 2140! From the Roddenberry Adventures Facebook Page: “The bottom line really is that cetaceans need to be seen in the wild, not in any kind of pool .”



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