Monday, September 16, 2013

Seaworld v. Marineland

With Blackfish about to screen in Marineland's own backyard we thought it would be an appropriate time to look back on the historic falling out between Seaworld and Marineland that occurred over the orca Ikaika.  "Ike" is one of many captive orcas sired by Tilikum who is the main orca featured in Blackfish.

It was a little more than two years ago that Seaworld successfully sued Marineland in Ontario Superior Court in order to repossess Ikaika.  Seaworld loaned Ikaika to Marineland in 2006 for breeding purposes and decided to terminate that loan after becoming concerned about Ikaika's physical and psychological health.  Marineland's appeal and attempt at a last minute injunction were rejected and Ikaika was returned to Seaworld in November of 2011.  This marked the end of a longstanding business relationship between Marineland and Seaworld which at one time was rather strong.

August Busch III former CEO of Anheuser-Busch which owned Seaworld at the time had developed a close friendship with Marineland owner John Holer and the two worked out a deal.  Holer traded 4 Beluga Whales and 2 trained Sea Lions for Ikaika.  The pair would alternate ownership of any offspring produced by Ikaika and Kiska, Marineland`s female orca.  Years later Busch would be out as owner of Seaworld and the company found themselves down a few breeding age male orcas.   They came looking to take their orca back but Marineland wasn`t having it.  John Holer claimed the loan was permanent and refused to hand over the whale.

In court Seaworld alleged that Ikaika was not being cared for properly at Marineland. They note in particular that Ikaika had not grown since his arrival at Marineland and had elevated blood cell levels consistent with stress. They also highlighted some behavioural issues such as Ikaika biting Kiska which lead to them being separated and the impact this had to Ikaika's psychological wellbeing as a result.  No one seemed to care at all about Kiska's wellbeing according to Seaworld.

In the fight to keep Ikaika Marineland claimed that he suffered from a chronic dental problem that was documented to be a problem well before he was moved to Marineland and that while the condition was chronic, they treated it in the fashion that they were advised by Seaworld (flushing the area of the mouth, antibiotics and pain killers).  Marineland claimed  this was the reason for the elevated blood levels, they did not admit to the stress aspect outside of whatever stress was caused by the chronic tooth problem. Lanny Cornell who was a former Seaworld VP and long-time consultant to Marineland attempted to claim that Ikaika was perfectly healthy and that Kiska and Ikaika were housed together and attempted to breed with no issues.

During the course of the lawsuit and through court documents,  interesting details surfaced about Marineland and Seaworld:
  • Seaworld had been sending sperm to other facilities as part of their experiments with artificial insemination and to reduce cost and risk of transporting orcas from place to place.
  • Seaworld claimed to be an expert in transporting orcas citing that they have on average transferred 1 orca every 18 months over the past 25 years
  • Trainer Mike Bunn was fired by Marineland in December 2010 and was working for Seaworld at the time of the lawsuit.
  • John Holer refused to use enrichment toys at Marineland because he does not like how they look in the tanks.
  • Marineland trainers were not allowed to attend IMATA meetings and as a result were not using the most current training methods putting people at risk.
  • According to Chuck Tompkins a senior executive at Seaworld,  Ikaika had grabbed trainers boots, targets and one person's arm.  Seaworld noted this as proof that the situation was becoming more dangerous as Ikaika was becoming sexually mature.  They also noted that the public interacted with the animals at Marineland and that could have lead to a dangerous situation such as an attack.
  • John Holer noted in his affidavit that Brad Andrews (Seaworld's chief zoological officer)  told him that sand blowing into the tanks at the Canary Islands facility was causing breathing problems for the orcas.
  • At the time Seaworld put an estimated value on belugas at $50,000 each and the same value for a trained sea lion.  
  • Marineland's whales were in Seaworld's opinion being under fed because they were regurgitating food consistently after eating and Marineland was not compensating for this behaviour by feeding more. 
  • Marineland did not have a proper lift and scale to weigh the whales which was essential to administering the correct dosage of medication.  Marineland claimed to be looking into getting one.   Seaworld felt that this inappropriate amount of food had lead to Ikaika's growth being stunted.
  • According to Seaworld, Marineland did not have an emergency plan in place if someone had fell into the water nor did they have an safety net to neutralize a whale until Seaworld sent them one.
  • Former Seaworld owner August Busch himself negotiated many of these types of deals up front and then left them in the hands of his employees to complete.   He flew John Holer and his son John Holer Jr.  to his private estate by helicopter after a tour of one of his amusement parks to wine and dine him when first negotiating the deal.
Eventually the courts sided with Seaworld and ordered Marineland to hand over the whale.  The fight between these two captive animal parks aired the dirty laundry of both sides but it could not have come out messier for Marineland.  Desperate to breed Kiska, their last remaining orca they hung on til the bitter end and completely burned their bridge with the captive industry giant and their partner in crime of 30 years.  To this day Kiska swims alone at Marineland, one of only two orcas in solitary confinement at aquariums in North America.

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