Kiska, the lonely female orca held in captivity at the theme park and aquarium Marineland in Ontario, Canada, has died. She was captured in the wild in 1979 in Iceland when she was only three years old. She has been held captive ever since.
Kiska was the last surviving orca at Marineland, outliving all the other orcas in her tank, including her five babies. The park has had 26 orcas in its tanks since it opened in 1961; 17 orcas died at Marineland and six others at other parks.
The whale passed away at Marineland on Thursday, an Ontario government spokesperson said late on Friday.
Canadian animal welfare group Animal Justice said on Twitter that it is “heartbroken over this news and is renewing calls for charges against Marineland for illegal animal cruelty.” The group submitted multiple legal complaints about Kiska’s welfare.
“Kiska deserves justice for what she endured,” Animal Justice said, calling on authorities to make public the results of a post-mortem, and to prosecute Marineland “for the unlawful distress Kiska clearly experienced throughout her final years.”
“Her conditions continued to deteriorate while she floated in solitude,” said former Marineland employee Philip Demers in January. “Her suffering is now over,” he said on Friday, adding that “the passing of Kiska, MarineLand’s last orca marks the end of orca captivity in Canada forever.”
Animal rights activists had long criticized the orca’s conditions, noting that her tank was too small and that the water in which she swam was not maintained correctly. Kiska had been living by herself in a tank for the last 11 years.
Orcas, also known as killer whales, are highly social animals who live in social groups called pods. They have complex social relationships and communication systems using a variety of vocalizations, including clicks, whistles, and calls, to communicate with each other.
When footage of Kiska circling her tank and splashing water over the walls of her isolated tank was shared in June last year, researchers said her behaviour resulted from her damaged mental and physical health and well-being from prolonged captivity.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said Kiska was extremely lonely and her life was marked by “tragedy after tragedy” after all five of her calves died before they were seven years old.
Since January 2020, MarineLand has been inspected 160 times after animal cruelty complaints.