[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Killer whale at center of court battle


(Ottawa Citizen)

Theme parks battle over killer whale custody


Wikie (R), a killer whale, swims with her calf in Marineland aquatic park in Antibes, southeastern France, April 18.
Photograph by: Eric Gaillard, Reuters

A whale of an international custody case has surfaced, with a Niagara Falls theme park refusing to surrender an orca to its U.S. owners.

In a court decision that would terrify any repo man, Ontario Superior Court Justice Richard A. Lococo has this week ordered Marineland Canada Inc. to return Ikaika, an eight-year-old male orca, to SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment LLC as soon as the 1,815-kilogram youngster is ready to go south.

But Marineland isn't budging. It announced Thursday it will appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

"The present dispute with SeaWorld over Ikaika is unfortunate," the company said in a statement. "Marineland believes that Ikaika should be allowed to stay at Marineland. That was the original understanding between SeaWorld and Marineland."

SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida loaned "Ike" to Marineland for breeding in 2006, according to the decision. In December, it gave notice it was terminating the "breeding loan agreement" and asked for the killer whale back.

Marineland said no. A legal tug-of-war over the 5.2-metre long mammal ensued, with SeaWorld going to court to free Ike from Canada.

Though the company argued its case strictly on contractual grounds, evidence put before the court by SeaWorld indicated that by 2009, "it had become concerned about Ikaika's physical and psychological health if it remained at Marineland," according to the reasons for the decision.

Marineland, meanwhile, unsuccessfully requested a full-blown trial to argue that the termination provision of the breeding loan agreement was ambiguous.

It says the two companies had a previous written understanding that the agreement could only be terminated by the SeaWorld if Marineland was no longer able to properly maintain Ike. Otherwise, it could keep him for life.

Lococo sided with SeaWorld.

"In my view, SeaWorld has properly terminated the breeding loan agreement and is entitled to possession of Ikaika," he wrote in a decision released this week.

"Accordingly, an order will issue granting SeaWorld recovery of possession of Ikaika, and ordering Marineland to co-operate in any way reasonably necessary to allow the safe and expeditious transport of Ikaika from Canada to the United States."

In a statement Thursday, SeaWorld said: "the court has found that the breeding loan with Marineland was properly terminated so plans are being made to co-ordinate Ikaika's move in the not-too-distant future."

It also suggested its concerns remain over the animal's welfare.

"We maintain an abiding interest in the welfare of our animals and do not hesitate to act in their best interest if we feel that a partner institution is not meeting its obligations in veterinary care, husbandry or training."

Ike remains in his tank at Marineland's Friendship Cove with the park's only other orca, Kiska. They have so far failed to produce offspring.

Ikaika — Hawaiian for "strong" — was sired by Tilikum and born at SeaWorld in 2002.

In February 2010, a SeaWorld trainer was killed when Tilikum dragged her under the water, one of three human deaths linked to him.

As of last fall, SeaWorld had a reported 23 killer whales in its corporate collection, including Ike.

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