A Case Study:

Posted on Wed, May. 29, 2002

Six Flags amusement park adds one whale of a resident Orca, known as killer whale, is first at site since Sea World left By Carol Biliczky Beacon Journal staff writer

AURORA - Smart, curious Shouka has taken up residence in man-made salt water in a huge blue pool. Lots of people think she shouldn't be there.

The orca came to the Six Flags Worlds of Adventure last week from Marineland in Antibes, France -- the first killer whale at the northern Portage County park since Sea World left town with its three whales about 16 months ago.

Shouka (pronounced SHOE-ka) is one of just 48 orcas in captivity, half of those in the United States, only one of them in Ohio -- so she's sure to be a draw when she begins to perform daily shows.

Right now she's getting used to a new routine, new keepers -- in fact, a whole new world.

``She's doing beautifully,'' senior trainer Jessica Teranteau said Tuesday as the media met the new star attraction.

In the world of whales, that means Shouka is curious about her new home, spouting water playfully at passers-by and sticking out her tongue to mimic training supervisor Drew Delgross.

At 5,000 pounds and 9 years old, she's a young adult, sexually mature, who's only been around two male whales in her life -- her father and brother.

Conservationists didn't want her to breed with such a close family member so she was loaned to the Ohio park to become a mother.

While Six Flags is advertising that a male companion from Argentina will be here for the 2002 season, that doesn't appear to be a done deal.

Animal welfare groups are trying to stop the park from importing the 10-year-old Kshamenk from an Argentinian aquarium.

While the National Marine Fisheries Service has given its permission for Six Flags to import Kshamenk, the orca's native country has not said it's OK for him to go.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Earth Island Institute of San Francisco say Kshamenk may have been acquired illegally under Argentinian law and that federal law prevents the United States from trafficking in wildlife that have been obtained illegally. Until that is resolved in Argentina, Kshamenk won't go anywhere.

But the bigger issue is the fate of the orcas, said Naomi Rose of the Humane Society.

The marine mammal scientist said that the annual death rate for orcas in captivity is 6 percent, perhaps double what it would be in the wild.

Rose said that two factors combine to bring the whales to amusement parks and aquariums: profit, as they are huge attractions, and the belief that the world has ``something to gain by seeing wild animals in captivity.''

``Some places advertise that these animals are `dying to entertain you' -- and they really are,'' Rose said.

J. Michael Williamson, head of the Whalenet educational Web site at Wheelock College in Boston, takes the middle view -- that programs like Six Flags' help to bring the whales to the public attention.

``Not everyone can go whale watching,'' he said. ``If people can't see whales, how can we expect them to be concerned about them? If people see them, they're going to support whale conservation.''

Six Flags takes the stronger viewpoint that whales like Shouka live better in captivity, away from pollution, predators and food shortages. Teranteau puts the average life of a captive whale at 25 to 35 years.

She said she is sure that the mammals are better off in protected parks like Six Flags, where a staff of handlers is at the ready to stimulate, train and watch over them.

``I'm on call 24 hours a day to ensure that her physical well-being is top-notch,'' Teranteau said.

She said Shouka will begin to perform when she's completely comfortable in her new surroundings -- perhaps in a couple of weeks.

Qustions for further study:

  • What do you think or feel about whales in captivity?
  • Do whale exhibits help to enlighten people about the environmental state of the oceans? the whales?
  • Are having whales in captivity different from having elephants, tigers, primates, lions, or other animals in captivity? Why?
  • Is having an animal in captivity at a zoo or aquarium different from owning a dog, a cat, a horse, or a bird? Why?
  • Does the captivity of a few benefit the species as a whole in enlightening people to the knowledge of or the plight of a species in question?
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