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…
Also, at the risk of inflaming the skeptics again I’ve heard that Kayla is next on the breeding list, and the hope is that she can be impregnated by artificial insemination using a sperm donation from Mundo Marino’s Kshamenk–which reflects the fact that SeaWorld is doing what it can to diversify the limited captive gene pool.
If Kayla is successfully impregnated it will raise questions, given Kayla’s checkered breeding history. She was born at SeaWorld San Antonio to Kenau (sired by Orky) in November 1988. According to her profile, when she was 11 months old she was separated from Kenau, and when she was 2 years old was shipped off to SeaWorld Ohio, eventually returning to SeaWorld San Antonio in 1999. The profile says that while Kayla has had behavioral issues, she was consistent with husbandry and in November 2001 was artificially inseminated. That AI, however, did not lead to a pregnancy.
From April-November 2003, blood samples showed high progesterone levels indicating a possible pregnancy. The profile notes that Kayla’s behavior changed over this period, and she showed aggressive tendencies toward trainers. However, as winter arrived her progesterone returned to normal levels, and her behavior improved.
Kayla finally became pregnant (for certain) in the summer of 2004 (in the early months of her pregnancy her behavior again became inconsistent, before stabilizing further into her pregnancy). Keet reportedly was the father, and she gave birth to a female calf, called Halyn, in October 2005. As her profile records, she immediately became aggressive with her calf, pushing Halyn against the glass, picking her up in her mouth and throwing her, “fluking” her out of the pool onto the slideout, and then pushing her back in and up against the glass. Trainers got Kayla through a gate to separate mother from calf, and then then removed Halyn from the stadium. Kayla allowed herself to be milked a few times a day for about six weeks. Sadly, Halyn died in June 2008, at 2 years and 8 months old.
In November 2006 Kayla was transported to SeaWorld Florida. She was pregnant during the transfer (so within a year of giving birth to Halyn, again by Keet) according to the profile. But in April 2007 an ultrasound showed no fetal movement. Shortly after, she delivered a stillborn male calf.
If SeaWorld is successful with an AI of Kayla, it would be her first calf since Halyn. It would be interesting to know whether the training and animal care staff believe that an older, more mature, Kayla would handle a calf better than she handled Halyn, and if so, why. Or it could be that SeaWorld is more confident about its ability to hand-rear a calf, if necessary, based on the success (so far) of raising Adan at Loro Parque despite Kohana’s refusal to nurse and lack of involvement. We’ll have to see how it all plays out.
I last wrote about Kayla here, because she reportedly helped shut down the Believe show that took place before the Dine With Shamu show in which Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau. Here she is, putting her stamp Kalina is, after Kayla worked her over during another show a few months later.
And speaking of Tilikum, there has been a lot of concern and chatter about the fact that he wasn’t well earlier this year. For what it is worth, I have been told that SeaWorld believes he is on the mend now, but that it was a close-run thing and he has lost a fair bit of weight.
One of the allegations in Killer In The Pool that SeaWorld pushed back hard on, was the assertion that Tilikum was abused by other killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando, and that aggression between killer whales in SeaWorld’s pools sometimes leads to serious injuries. Responding to the allegation, VP Of Communications Fred Jacobs said: “Injuries as part of the expression of social dominance are rare and almost never serious.”
Jacobs doesn’t say that serious injuries NEVER occur. Which is smart, because there is a pretty well known 1987 incident at SeaWorld Orlando in which a whale named Kotar bit a whale he did not get along with, named Kanduke, in the penis. The bloody result closed SeaWorld shows down for a period, and Kotar was eventually shipped off to SeaWorld San Antonio. He died there in 1995, when a pool gate he was playing with closed on his head and fractured his skull.
At the same time, Jacobs carefully worded response could easily give the impression that this is not a very serious phenomenon. And it would probably shock many in the public to see what some of the injuries actually look like. The second most notorious incident between two SeaWorld killer whales occurred in 1989, between two orcas called Kandu and Corky. Here is one description of what happened:
Kandu was a good performer, but she was also a moody orca. Waterworks were done with her but she showed aggressions to her trainers more than once. In 1984 she got pregnant with her first offspring. Unfortunately she gave birth to a dead calf on January 31, 1986.
Almost one year after, SeaWorld got 2 new orcas; Kandu immediately got along with the male Orky II and soon became pregnant with her second calf. On September 23, 1988, she gave birth to a female named Orkid. Kandu was a good and protective mother, so she wasn’t enthused when Corky, one of the other females showed interest in the new calf.
On August 21, 1989, Kandu was swimming laps in the back pool, while Orkid and Corky performed during a show. Kandu suddenly rushed into the show pool and rammed into Corky with her mouth being open. Corky was fine after the attack, but Kandu broke her jaw and started bleeding soon after. She immediately swam back to the back pool, where she died from severe blood loss. Orkid was by her side.
This incident is tragic because it led to the death of a killer whale. But someone recently sent me a photo of what the scene looked like after Kandu returned to the back pool, and it is pretty shocking. It tells a story about what can happen in the pools that is totally at odds with the impression that SeaWorld often conveys: that there is some social jostling, but it is “almost never serious.” This looks pretty serious:
I find this picture immensely powerful, because it conveys a mostly hidden reality. And while it is probably the most extreme event in SeaWorld’s history (that we know of), there are many injuries and incidents which never get seen or reported.
For example, this year at SeaWorld I have been told two killer whales named Kalina and Kayla have not been getting along. From what I have been told, it was these two killer whales, in fact, that shut down the Believe Show on February 24, just before Dawn Brancheau was killed. It is not necessarily surprising that SeaWorld has to cope with conflict between its killer whales, given that they are brought together in a pretty random way (aggression between members of a family pod in the wild is almost nonexistent). But, again, you get a critical level of understanding when you get an actual first-hand report, and some pictures.
Here is an account (with pics) of what happened between Kalina and Kayla at the Believe Show at SeaWorld Orlando in June this summer:
The show commenced as it usually does with the opening show. Then, Kalina came out for the first major breach, the start of the show.
Moments later, Kayla raced into the pool. I could instantly sense this was not part of the show, as Kalina suddenly seemed very skittish. Moments later, Kayla collided with Kalina in the centre of the pool, causing a scuffle that went on for several seconds, water thrashing about and squeals from the orcas.
Straight after, Kayla left and raced into the back pool, leaving Kalina to swim laps about the pool on her own, disobeying and refusing to listen to trainers orders, as one of the trainers came out to talk to the crowd, the show halting at this point.
The trainers attempted to place Kalina into the back pool, the same as the others (at this point it housed Katina, Kayla, Trua, Nalani and Malia), which Kalina flatly refused, opting to swim laps about the pool instead. The show continued, ignoring Kalina who ignored all instructions and just swam laps.
Anytime Kayla entered the pool, Kalina would approach the gate to the opposite back pool and cower there, as if trying to get away. The gate was never opened, despite Kalina flatly refusing to co-operate throughout the show, despite several times approaching trainers.
In the finale of the show, Kalina finally decided to start obeying orders. This was fine, but what disturbed me at the end, was that Kalina was again, sent to the same back pool as Kayla.
My sense is that this sort of fracas is not that unusual. But it’s hard to know, because they only become public when they occur during shows and are documented. Anyhow, here is the result. When Kayla initially rammed Kalina, she put a gash right above her eye (luckily she did not take out the eye):
So how did SeaWorld address the incident, and the lack off cooperation from the whales that resulted? Happily, my source filmed that, so we can listen to the trainer trying to explain it to the audience.
“There are just days that they just want to play with one another and be extremely social,” he says. I think that qualifies as stretching the definition of “play” and “extremely social.” Anyhow, watch for yourself, and observe one of the talents required to be a SeaWorld trainer: