The Star obtained recent video of Kiska showing a blood trail from cuts in her tail. Once one of Marineland’s best show animals, Santos said she now spends her days swimming listlessly and scratching parts of her body against the sides and sharp fibreglass grates that run the circumference of her Friendship Cove pool. Treating her is difficult because Kiska, about 37, has refused to go into the medical pool for the past month. Her behaviour has been “breaking down for some time,” said Santos. She won’t even present her tail for blood samples. Santos believes there aren’t enough trainers to give Kiska and 39 beluga whales enough attention at Friendship and Arctic Coves. Santos was fired Wednesday. She said she was asked to sign a document that included a statement she’d never seen animal abuse at Marineland. She didn’t sign because “it didn’t feel right.” (via Marineland: Killer whale bleeding for months, trainer says - thestar.com)
- Other whales have been bloodied at the Niagara Falls tourist park. On Apr. 11, 2012, after female beluga Charmin was left on a trailer when a crane jammed during a move to another pool, photos show the area soaked with blood.
- In a recent Star investigation, former staffers blamed ill health, even death, among sea mammals on sporadically bad water and a lack of sufficient trainers.
- The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals launched an investigation, which is still ongoing. Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur announced a wide consultation to beef up animal welfare laws in Ontario and explore licensing zoos and aquariums.
- It’s illegal in the U.S. to keep killer whales alone and, and the OSPCA Act says captive wildlife “must be kept in a compatible social group.”
- Last April, staffers moved two belugas, Tofino, a male, and Charmin from Friendship Cove to the performing stadium pool. At the end of Charmin’s move, the crane set to lift her in a sling over to the pool jammed, and she was stuck on the flatbed, her tail thrashing against the metal slats and edges of the trailer, according to former senior trainer Phil Demers.
- “It was one of the worst days of my life,” says Demers, who helped in the move. “It went on for at least an hour… . There was blood on Charmin, on the ground, on the side of the pool, on the pads — it was sprayed all over. The worst, though, was that she lay there all that time with the pressure of her heavy weight (about 1,350 kilograms) on her internal organs — so bad.”
- A month later, Demers quit after 12 years because he could no longer “train animals that were sick and compromised.”
- Demers said he saw other animals being cut during moves between pools, even when cranes worked properly. Usually, they are placed in slings, then put on pads on a trailer and, at the other end, lifted by crane and into a different pool.
- In an interview, Santos said she has seen Kiska cut her dorsal fin on the sharp fibreglass grates, adding “we cut our fingers on them all the time.”
- She doesn’t know if Kiska cut her tail on the grate or the sides of her pool, but she’s worried about her. She said there are seven or eight trainers for Kiska and the 39 belugas (six pregnant) at Friendship and Arctic Coves, adding she always feels hurried because there’s so much to do … there aren’t enough people to spend time with Kiska and the others.”
- Santos said the 27 belugas at Arctic Cove “ have hardly any attention because we just have time for strictly feeding.”
- The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums asserts that Marineland’s animals are “in overall good health.” The self-regulating industry association began an investigation into the park after the Star series and said there were “no major issues.”
- Kiska has never been a strong whale, according to former trainers, including Santos, who say she’s constantly on medication. Her pool is concrete with the fibreglass grates along the side and a few large rocks on the bottom. She was captured off Iceland in 1981 and developed what one former trainer called “an incredibly close” connection with Nootka, another wild-caught Icelandic whale, and “they hated to be separated.” They swam constantly together and vocalized, even having their own calls. They even supported other through labour, with Kiska having four calves. The oldest died at 6. Santos said Kiska began declining after her 4-year-old calf Athena, as well as Nootka, died a few years ago.
- “I love her dearly,” Santos said. “I am worried about her because she is alone. She vocalizes a lot. I feel as if she is calling out for another whale.”