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The Trials Of Tekoa

September 26, 2011

While “Blood In The Water” focused most on the killer whale Keto, it also detailed a serious incident in which Tekoa, a young male, went after a trainer called Claudia Volhardt, and put her in the hospital.

During my reporting, I was told that Tekoa has a tough time at Loro Parque, and is frequently harassed by the other killer whales there. Now I want to dig a bit deeper into Tekoa’s experience at Loro Parque, because recently some pictures of him have surfaced which show very serious scars and rake marks, underscoring the difficult social order among the killer whales at Loro Parque, and Tekoa’s plight.

When SeaWorld first sent four killer whales to Loro Parque, some SeaWorld trainers, as well as other experts, worried that the group did not include a mature, dominant female to establish a clear and stable social order (the two females were Kohana, 3 at the time, and Skyla, 2).  And those concerns seem valid, given that the Loro Parque’s killer whales, according to many people I spoke with, were often more interested in chasing after each other than performing in shows. And, of course, there were two serious attacks at Loro Parque, one resulting in the death of a trainer. But now we can also see visual evidence of how the unstable situation is affecting Tekoa.

Here is a close-up of Tekoa taken in April 2011 (click the image for full-size, to see full detail):

(Credit: MonchoParis)

This is a second photo MonchoParis sent me, after I asked if I could use his photos (click for full size):

I also have more recent pictures of Tekoa, taken in September and sent to me, which I’ve put into a slideshow:

A number of experts have told me that these rake marks are about as bad as any they have ever seen on a marine park killer whale, and people are taking notice. Even fervent fans of marine parks have been visiting Loro Parque and, after seeing Tekoa’s condition, have been posting critical reports about Loro Parque and the troubled social dynamic among the killer whales online. They have posted accounts of seeing Skyla and Kohana, in particular, abuse Tekoa for hours without any intervention from the Loro Parque training staff. Many express the belief that Tekoa should be moved back to a SeaWorld park.

This echoed something I had been told while reporting “Blood In The Water.” One source told me that in 2009, Brian Rokeach, then SeaWorld’s supervising trainer on site at Loro Parque, had become concerned enough about Tekoa that he urged SeaWorld management to consider bringing Tekoa back to the United States. I asked Loro Parque about it, and they responded: “We do not have any information about the request of Brian Rokeach to return Tekoa to a SeaWorld facility. If it happened SeaWorld Zoological Department should know.” SeaWorld has denied that any of their employees have ever recommended moving any of the Loro Parque Killer whales. So I left it out of the article.

Since then, however, I have heard more about Tekoa’s experience at Loro Parque. And regardless of whether there was ever any formal discussion of moving him, it seems clear that there were issues that might justify concern about his well-being. What I have been told is that in late summer 2009 Tekoa injured his belly by trying to slide over a safety bar placed between the pools to prevent the orcas from freely going up and over the slideover from one pool to another.

Here is a picture, taken in August 2008, of what the safety bar looked like before 2009 (provided by a friend, who follows marine parks very closely, and is an expert at finding photos! More photos here and here):

You can see that the safety bar discouraging the killer whales from going between the pools via the slideover is smooth. You can also see some chains (they are easier to see in the other photos I linked to above), which are in place, I am told, to discourage the orcas from bellying up to the bars and testing them.

At some point in 2009 the safety bars for the slideover were modified, and hexagonal nuts were welded on to them, to deter the orcas from sliding over them. This slideshow shows in close-up detail what the modifications look like:

So I went back to my source with this picture and was told that these hexagonal nuts were what injured Tekoa. The source said that the Loro Parque orcas spent a lot of time spy-hopping and leaning on the safety bars, and that the spikes were added to the bars to discourage the orcas from sliding from one pool into the other (the bars at SeaWorld California have also been retrofitted; apparently Orkid was one orca known to slide over the bars before the retrofit). Part of the backstory, I was told, is that the Loro Parque trainers used to remove the safety bars as part of playtime with the orcas, so they could slide back and forth between the pools. The injury to Tekoa, I was told, occurred when the safety bars were replaced one day, but the chains used to help keep the orcas way from the bars, were forgotten. And Tekoa tried to go over the bar, which now had the nuts on them. Another source told me that he was trying to escape aggression when he went over the bar.

These sorts of accounts are always complex, and difficult to completely nail down. But here is what the source says: “Definite facts are that those projections were first put on in late summer/early fall 2009, the trainers forgot to replace the chains, and Tekoa injured himself trying to slideover.”

Without knowing exactly when Tekoa was injured it is hard to know for sure whether photos of him show the injury to his belly. But this photo of Tekoa, taken in late July, appears to show at least some sort of scarring on his underside (click image for full size):

I don’t know whether SeaWorld ever seriously considered moving Tekoa or not, though I do know trainers back at SeaWorld were aware of his injuries and his troubled life there. But I am digging into this to illustrate how complex the interactions between marine park killer whales are, and how there are sometimes situations which are very difficult for an individual whale (like a kid at school who, for many subtle reasons, ends up being the kid the bullies always pick on).

That was part of Tilikum’s story, in fact. And it is worth considering how being the killer whale that gets picked on in a social group might affect that killer whale’s mentality. Some trainers did not believe Tekoa would ever be a reliable waterwork killer whale because of his tendency to get picked on in any social grouping he was placed in. There was always a concern, when getting in the water with him, that some fight or social issue with the other killer whales might have been missed, and Tekoa might take his frustrations out on a trainer.

So experience in whatever group a killer whale happens to be in is a serious issue. Most people go to a marine park show and see killer whales who all look the same to the casual eye. It is not easy for most members of the audience to pick up on all the details, interactions, and body language which help reveal what sort of experience a particular whale is having in the marine park environment. But in Tekoa’s case, the signs of his troubles are all over his body.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. lynne zonies permalink
    September 26, 2011 7:55 pm

    This is so sad and sick. How can companies which boast of their conservation and educational stature (SW) ignore the obvious cruelty imposed on orcas in concrete cells?

    It is almost as if a corporation which is for profit would use loopholes and take money from actual nonprofits under a guise of conservation.
    Of course, this could never happen in America.

    HA

  2. Tracy Ellen permalink
    September 27, 2011 7:43 am

    This poor orca is suffering both mentally and physically, with no end in sight.. The photos are really shocking, and seeing that scar sent a shiver down my spine. Thank you for highlighting this.

  3. September 27, 2011 12:08 pm

    I am just so disgusted with this place, its like every story gets worse and worse. I feel so bad for all the orca in this hell hole. Poor Tekoa, I cant imagine the stress he suffers on a daily basis and he has no where to run and no safe haven. It was mentioned that he is like a kid who is picked on but at least kids who are picked on at school can go to the comfort of their home, he is trapped there!

  4. September 27, 2011 12:12 pm

    Its too bad he had Tili could not be moved to a nice big sea pen together. I should think they would have an understanding for each other and they are father and son!

    • Heather Nielsen permalink
      April 27, 2012 2:02 pm

      I like that idea =-)

  5. September 27, 2011 1:37 pm

    As an ex-killer whale trainer of Tillikum these type of sharings are important for the process of coming to a balance with the true Kings of the Sea. Thanks Tim for being courageous to share these stories. Go to my Profile Page to read notes from a book I have been writing that talks about Tillikum’s early days. It is evident for all those to read stories like yours to realize the harm we are doing in the name of simple profit.

  6. September 27, 2011 8:05 pm

    This is why I never attend these types of things. Animals do not belong in cages or tanks. I think it is too sad to watch

  7. Megan permalink
    September 28, 2011 4:43 pm

    Looks like SeaWorld is bringing Ike back to the U.S. because they were concerned for his “emotional and physical well-being.” An appellate judge ruled in SeaWorld’s favor – my guess is Ike will be sent to SeaWorld SD as a replacement for Sumar (who died at age 12 last year). According to fans of the Marineland Ontario, Ikaika was one of the park’s biggest performing celebrities. Meanwhile, Tekoa is clearly suffering while on loan to Loro Parque… but he can’t do water work because of an attack on a trainer. Is SeaWorld really reneging on the K because Ike is in trouble, or because he’s a good performer? The situation with Tekoa would indicate, as usual, that it’s all about the money and the animals’ “emotional and physical well-being” is only important when it can be used as an excuse to make more money.

  8. SweOrca permalink
    October 1, 2011 5:13 am

    He should go back to his mother Taima. No, wait – SHE IS DEAD. Go to his brother Sumar? No, he is dead to! He only got a little sister, which he has never seen… and family is so important to these animals. Poor guy. I hope he will be moved to some SW, even if I don’t like that, its better then Loro at this point. Orcas should never be in captivity.

    • texasbeachbird permalink
      October 1, 2012 6:52 pm

      I totally agree with you!! Orcas in captivity live shortened or VERY brief lives in captivity. They are put in an artificial environment, handfed frozen fish & gelatin(to prevent dehydration), tons of vitamin & other kinds of pills. They are in a water tank that is thousands of times too small with orcas that are not related or familiar to them. Subjected to volumes of noise that interferes with their sensitive echolocation and further stresses them out. No wonder they develop aggression, frustration, and depression! It is barbaric & inhumane! We should respect & honor an animal that is or is above our intellectual level. We are all connected. It’s a sacred trust & we should let these beings live in freedom& peace.

  9. IloveKetoTekoaSkylaKohanaAdánandMorgan permalink
    December 2, 2011 4:16 pm

    An die Orca-Trainer und Verantwortlichen im Loro Parque (und Sea World)

    Ich liebe “meine” Orcas im Loro Parque,
    Keto, Tekoa, Kohana, Skyla, Adán und Morgan.
    Ihr doch auch.

    Ich freue mich sehr, daß Morgan nun auch dazu gehört.
    Ihr seid darüber sicher auch sehr glücklich.

    Aber was passiert da bei Euch im Loro Park?

    Der arme Tekoa.
    Warum laßt ihr zu, daß er so verletzt wird?

    Und warum muß Kohana schon wieder ein Baby bekommen?

    Kümmert Euch um die Orcas, die jetzt leben
    und hört auf immer weiter Babys zu produzieren,
    nur weil die Amis es so wollen.

    Was passiert als nächstes?

    Muß Tekoa zurück in die USA oder sogar der kleine Adán?
    Wenn es Tekoa dort besser geht, dann muß es leider sein, für ihn.
    Aber nicht unser Baby Adán. NEIN auf keinen Fall!

    Verkraftet Kohana diese dauernden Schwangerschaften?
    Was wenn nicht, ich mag gar nicht daran denken.

    Reißt nicht immer die Familien auseinander sondern laßt
    die Tiere in Frieden miteinander leben.

    Es gibt viele Menschen, die diese Tiere genauso lieben wie ich und ihr.
    Wenn ihr den Orcas “wehtut” verletzt ihr auch diese Menschen und Euch selbst.

    Denkt mal darüber nach…
    … das ist doch nicht die Botschaft die ihr uns geben wollt…

    Wir schützen nur, was wir lieben
    und wir lieben nur was wir kennen

    … das war immer Eure Botschaft…

    also schützt bitte was wir lieben und Ihr doch auch…

    Passt auf “unsere” wunderbaren Orcas auf,… BITTE !!! …

    … damit noch viele Menschen sie kennen und lieben lernen…

  10. Inge permalink
    December 23, 2011 1:48 pm

    So sad.
    November 29, 2011 our Dutch killer whale Morgan arrived at LP.
    Our gouvernment decided, this was the best for her.
    Yesterday on the news….she is so happy!

    http://nos.nl/artikel/324604-orka-morgan-maakt-het-goed.html

    After reading your story about this parc, I ‘m no longer sure about that.
    I’m afraid she will die…..just like our first orca Gudrun at Seaworld.
    They don’t belong in captivity.

  11. Roberto permalink
    April 4, 2012 8:07 am

    Dr. Ingrid Visser showed in 1998 how wild animales also present this kind of rake marks. What would you expect from captivity population?

    http://www.aquaticmammalsjournal.org/share/AquaticMammalsIssueArchives/1998/AquaticMammals_24-02/24-02_Visser.pdf

  12. September 29, 2012 1:08 pm

    What a bullshits! Have ever been there? No? So why do you say this nonsense?! I declare, that the Loro Parque is one of the most reliable organization that helps animals! Yes, they do! Thanks to their fundation – The Loro Paque Fundacion, dozens of parrot’s species have survived! Read about it here: http://www.loroparque-fundacion.org/default.aspx?lang=en-US . Not the Loro Parque, but the SeaWorld harms animals! Don’t you believe? So I’m asking – what is that: http://www.peta.org/b/thepetafiles/archive/2012/09/28/orca-badly-hurt-in-seaworld-clash.aspx?utm_campaign=0912%20Orca%20Badly%20Hurt%20in%20SeaWorld%20Clash%20Tweet&utm_source=PETA%20Facebook&utm_medium=Promo . To find out more about this hell for animals and lives that were taken by the Seaworld, read: http://www.seaworldofhurt.com/lives-stolen.aspx
    In my opinion that explains everything.

  13. October 1, 2012 6:31 pm

    Marine parks who use mammals for shows and profit are disgusting to me , i will never go there cos i do not want to get brainwashed, ,not that i will because thank GOD IM STILL ABLE to do my researches and READ ABOUT THESE ANIMALS AND SEE THE TRUE FACTS. How can someone not consider to look at both sides of the story? If someone would do that would immediately see where the RIGHT AND THE WRONG ARE. I do not need to believe just because im lazy to get information on my own . But the more disappointing fact is humans who work there and see this everyday how can they be ok with that? i mean after a while , it is in human nature, you get affectionate to an animal you see every day isnt like that? so why they do not do anything for them? And the prison these animals are forced to is almost unbearable. I wish we could do more for them. Where are the media????

    • Mademoiselle B. permalink
      October 2, 2012 1:29 am

      Because they are selfish and primarily concerned with their own desires. The animals only matter in what they can do for them, in how they can entertain them. That’s what everything about the animals lquality of life, health, everything… all based on what they want from the animal.

Trackbacks

  1. My Blog OceansSpirit
  2. Trainers at the park show “a clear lack of empathy for this animal,” Visser said, “who ignore her calls for attention and her cries for help and disregard aggressive attacks on her by the other animals.” | My Blog OceansSpirit
  3. Forced Inbreeding and Bloody Battles – Killer Whales Live in Horror at Spanish Theme Park! | My Blog OceansSpirit

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