Waterwork, Calves, And Cadillac Killer Whales

A few weeks ago I dug into the details of a minor incident in which Taku gave former SeaWorld Florida trainer Jeff Ventre an unscheduled bump.

There were two aspects I have been meaning to follow up on, which further illustrate the complexities and subtleties of killer whale entertainment.

As I noted in the previous post, Taku’s little stunt was written off as “baby behavior.” Calves are naturally immature, inexperienced, and can be unpredictable. According to Carol Ray, another former SeaWorld Florida trainer from that era, Katerina and Taima were also well known for that sort of acting up as calves. Former SeaWorld Florida trainer Samantha Berg adds: “Taima had her way with Teri Corbett’s ponytail on more than one occasion, until management decided that women working Taima in the water had to wear their hair in a bun. But I don’t know how long that rule lasted.”

So when calves went off script it was tolerated–up to a point.

But the fact that calves are unpredictable and sometimes do not do what they are supposed to do created an interesting dilemma for SeaWorld regarding waterwork. On the one hand, a number of SeaWorld killer whale mothers have been sensitive to whether their caves were with them in the pool. The most notorious is Kasatka at SeaWorld California, whose profile notes that aggression was sometimes linked to “when she was separated from her calf and her calf was in distress.” Kasatka’s profile includes a pretty long rap sheet of incidents, a number of which were attributed to a calf being in another pool and/or vocalizing.

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Of course, the most dramatic incident was when she repeatedly dragged Ken Peters to the bottom of the pool in 2006, a scene which features in Blackfish.

So, for whales like Kasatka who liked to have their calves around, it could be an important safety measure to have a calf in the show pool if the Continue reading “Waterwork, Calves, And Cadillac Killer Whales”

SeaWorld’s Takara No Longer Considered Pregnant

At the risk of over-exciting all my skeptics, who think I pull SeaWorld orca pregnancies out of my ass, I have been getting word that SeaWorld Texas’ Takara is not pregnant. Takara was one of a number of SeaWorld pregnancies that I wrote about last November. All seemed normal, and SeaWorld considered Takara to be pregnant, but in March her progesterone levels dropped below a level consistent with pregnancy. An investigatory sonogram did not reveal a fetus, but it was not clear whether she had lost the fetus (though she had not passed one) or simply had experienced a false pregnancy.

The failure of Takara’s pregnancy raised a question about the sperm of Kshamenk, the male from Argentina’s Mundo Marino, which had been used in Artificial Insemination (AI) procedures on both Takara and Kasatka. Kshamenk’s sperm is one way for SeaWorld’s captive breeding program to get beyond a preponderance of Tilikum genes, so it is important to the future of orca breeding at SeaWorld. But Kasatka’s pregnancy is progressing, with a fetus visible on sonograms, so Kshamenk’s sperm is at least viable.

So Takara will not be giving birth along with Kasatka and Kohana. However, she seems healthy despite the false or failed pregnancy, and SeaWorld plans to try and inseminate her again by mid-summer. Not sure whether they will use Kshamenk’s sperm again. But SeaWorld also has an AI and sperm collection arrangement with Marineland Antibes in France, which used sperm from SeaWorld California’s Ulises to impregnate their younger female, Wikie. That led to the birth of a calf called Moana last year. Marineland Antibes has two males, Valentin and Inouk, who are sexually mature and presumably could also be used as sperm donors for SeaWorld’s breeding program.

SeaWorld Florida also has plans to AI Kayla sometime soon (in March I mentioned she was next on the AI list), though apparently she does not cycle normally, so the timing is a bit tricky.

That’s all the orca pregnancy news I have for the moment. So let the skeptics have at it…

More SeaWorld Orca Pregnancies?

Earlier today, I got confirmation that Kohana, at Loro Parque, is pregnant. Here is a recent photo showing her gravid profile:

Kohana, on the right, showing her growing girth.

Now I am also picking up whispers that SeaWorld’s Kasatka and her daughter Takara are also pregnant, via Artifical Insemination (AI) that was conducted over the summer. The donor: Kshamenk, an Argentinian killer whale.

Kasatka is a 34-year old female at SeaWorld San Diego. She was captured off Iceland in 1978, when she was about one year old, and in 2000 became the first SeaWorld female to be artificially inseminated (with sperm from Tilikum). That pregnancy led to the birth of Nakai, who is still at SeaWorld San Diego. Kasatka is also the mother of Takara (born in 1991 and now at SeaWorld San Antonio), and Kalia (born in 2004 and still at SeaWorld San Diego).

Kasatka has a history of aggressive incidents with trainers, and in 2006 dragged trainer Ken Peters repeatedly to the bottom of the pool. Trainers have not been allowed to swim with her since.

Kasatka During Her Waterwork Days

Takara, Kasatka’s daughter, is the mother of Kohana, who was born in 2002 (and if she successfully carries her current pregnancy to term will have given birth twice before she turns 13). Takara is also the mother of Trua (born in 2005 and now at SeaWorld Orlando), and Sakari (born last year and still at SeaWorld San Antonio).

Takara On Stage

The use of sperm from Kshamenk, a killer whale who was captured in Argentina in 1992 and now lives at Buenos Aires’ Mundo Marino, is a new wrinkle in SeaWorld’s captive orca breeding program. A majority of SeaWorld’s killer whales have Tilikum’s genes, and there has been a lot of concern about a genetic bottleneck within SeaWorld’s breeding pool. Training Kshamenk to give sperm donations, and using his sperm to impregnate Kasatka and Takara adds completely distinctive Argentinian killer whale DNA to the SeaWorld sperm pool.

Kshamenk lives alone at Mundo Marino:

Killer Whale Breeding: Artificial Insemination From The Female Perspective

 

Tommy Lee
Cover of Tommy Lee

Thanks to Tommy Lee and PETA, the methods used to extract sperm from killer whales for the purpose of artificial insemination are getting plenty of attention. Now the world probably knows a lot more about the mechanics involved in working with male killer whales than it probably ever wanted.

Well, for those of you who can handle it, and who want to know even more, here is what goes on from the female side of the equation. The pics in the slideshow below show Orkid, a 22 year-old female at SeaWorld San Diego undergoing recent training for the procedure, and an up-close of the actual procedure being performed (this picture was taken in 2005).

As background, Orkid is the only mature female at SeaWorld’s parks who has never given birth to a calf. She has been inseminated many, many times without success, and these training pictures–taken in August–seem to indicate that she is being prepared for insemination yet again, or perhaps has already been inseminated.

I was also tipped to a YouTube video clip from Animal Planet that also gives a very up close view of what is involved in inseminating a female killer whale. In this case the killer whale is SeaWorld’s Kasatka, who was SeaWorld’s first female to be artificially inseminated with success (using Tilikum’s semen), in 2000.

Here’s a description of what the video shows, from a friend who follows the AI program closely, and sent me the link to the video:

Basically, they push that tube down into the vagina, through the cervix, and a camera is threaded down it to see what they are doing. They actually inject semen directly into the womb, using the camera to help get it into the uterine horn that they detect is ovulating.

The video embedding has been disabled, which seems increasingly common with videos which show the husbandry practices behind killer whale shows. But click on the video image to be taken to the video.

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