Kshamenk may not be a seminal case on the viability of reintroduction and release, but a damning statement on the complicity of SeaWorld in the continuing capture and detainment of Orca worldwide.
Sorting fact from fiction in the case for Release
While discussing Kshamenk on Twitter one night, Gabriela Bellazzi sent me a message correcting some of my comments. Gabriela is the Executive Director of the Wild Earth Foundation and has been working on the Kshamenk case along with the Free Willy Foundation for more than 10 years. The Wild Earth Foundation (WEF) is a non-profit conservation organization based in Puerto Piramides, Peninsula Valdes, Chubut, Argentina. There may be no more credible source to speak to the condition of Kshamenk or the viability of his release.
The Public perception of Kshamenk
Worldwide awareness of the case of Kshamenk was spiked when Sam Simon, The creator of ‘The Simpsons” and well known supporter of Sea Sheppard tweeted a picture of a huge Orca in a small, round enclosure. The tweet read:
“This is Kshamenk, the most abused orca in the world, permanently bent from living in a pool.”
The reaction was a ‘Tweet Storm’ that continues to this day frequently using the same picture and various tweets like these:
Common statements made in Social Media about Kshamenk’s conditions include:
- Kshamenk is permanently ‘bent’ from swimming 500 circles a day in a round pool
- The water quality of the pool is poor
- The temperature of the water is too warm
- There is no shade
- He is aggressive and Anti-Social to trainers
- That he has has no social interaction with other Orca
- That he has broken teeth
The facts about Kshamenk and his Conditions:
I was provided a December 2013 report prepared by Gabriella that is a collaborative effort of Wild Earth Foundation (WEF), Earth Island Institute (EII) and Free Willy Keiko Foundation (FWKF). In 2006 when the government of Argentina was considering a request to transfer Kshamenk to Six Flags Ohio, a group of third-party scientists conducted an evaluation of Kshamenk to ascertain the options for the improvement of his quality of life. The results of the study were provided to the government of Argentina. The goal of the assessment was to analyze different options for his future including:
- Remain in Mundo Marino
- Transfer to Six Flags
- Hold in a sea pen
- Release to the wild
- Euthanasia though not considered given Kshamenk was not found to be in undue suffering based on a medical condition that was untreatable.
The criteria of the assessment included:
- Size and configuration of the pool complex,
- Quality of the water
- Cleanliness of the habitat
- Feeding records
- Summaries of medical conditions
- Clinical laboratory reports
The assessment resulted in the following findings:
- He is responsive to handlers, well trained in both show and medical behaviors; he is well adjusted to a companion animal and to his keepers.
- His movements are strong and he is capable of vigorous sustained activity following which there is no obvious change in his breathing pattern or swimming behavior.
- He is alert and responsive to all cues and signals.
- Teeth are excellent, showing virtually no wear.
- The experts have observed no signs of self-mutilation.
- His appearance, health, energy level, appetite, interactions and behaviors do not indicate social deprivation.
- Kshamenk does have open access through a canal, to a round satellite (holding) pool that is frequently highlighted in pictures, but spends the majority of his time with ‘Floppy’, a bottleneck Dolphin in the exhibition tank, which is much longer. (A recommendation was made that the pool should be 5’ deeper)
Not a candidate for Reintroduction
The results of the assessment indicate that chances for viability of Kshamenk’s reintroduction were poor, and that if suitable improvements were made to his habitat the best-case scenario for him would be to remain in captivity. His teeth were found to be in good condition, he appears to be in good physical health, and it is known where he was captured. However, he is believed to be a Transient and therefore the chances of him locating a pod that he is related to is poor. The ability for him to hunt is questioned, and there is no suitable area for a sea pen that is protected from storm damage near the point of capture. Kshamenk has also become socialized to human interaction and without it he may seek out dangerous interaction that could lead to harm.
As a result of the assessment Mundo Marino made the following improvements:
- The chiller used for maintaining water temperature was updated.
- The water quality was improved due to the addition of a new filter system
- A sound system was installed that is directional limiting the impact on the Whale.
The truth about Kshamenk implicates SeaWorld as a driver in continued capture of Killer Whales
There is speculation that the funds for these improvements came from the agreement with SeaWorld to use Kshamenk as a breed bull. However it appears that SeaWorld did not become involved with Mundo Marino until the summer of 2011, when SeaWorld sent trainers to consult on the training of the necessary husbandry technique to obtain sperm. Based on the collection and artificial insemination of Kasatka, she gave birth to his son Makani on February 14, 2013. SeaWorld used the live-birth as an opportunity for Public Relations and Chris Bellows, SeaWorld San Antonio vice president of zoological operations made the following comment:
No statement is more damning than this in linking SeaWorld as complicit in the holding of Killer Whales worldwide as a benefit to their breeding program. There is no doubt that Mundo Marino benefits financially by providing sperm to SeaWorld, and that this in fact sets a precedent for others to capture and hold captive more Orca for the sale of reproduction product. So while the study of Kshamenk may not be a seminal case supporting reintroduction and release of qualified candidates back to the wild, it may very well be “exhibit number 1” in calling on APHIS to stop the import of all sperm for Appendix I animals. There can be little doubt that SeaWorld is involved in the discussion as to the ultimate destination and ownership of the 8 recently captured Orca in Russia which potentially supplies a fresh set of DNA for their breeding program.
SeaWorld is complicit in the Worldwide continued capture of Killer Whales
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