Katina – a real-life orca storyKatina – a real-life orca story

Katina was captured in the same month and year I was born, meaning she has lived my entire life in captivity.

A baby orca, now Katina, was captured off Iceland’s coast in October 1978.

She would have been around two years old. Orcas are usually a part of their pod (their social group) for the rest of their lives. There can be several generations in one pod.

Katina was captured and taken to Marineland, Canada.

Ever since learning her story, I have felt a strong connection to Katina. Why? Why? Because Katina was taken in the same month and year I was born, she has spent my entire existence in captivity.

Katina was purchased by SeaWorld before my first birthday and relocated from Canada to their park in Ohio.

She moved between SeaWorld, Ohio, and SeaWorld, San Diego, for the next few years. Finally, at 6 years old, Katina was transferred to SeaWorld Orlando.

Unknowingly and oddly, I might have seen Katina perform at SeaWorld Orlando when I was 7. I was there with hundreds of others to see Shamu, not knowing that Shamu had died many years ago and that the name was being used for the show that day. Katina, who soaked the crowd with her tail, could have played the role of Shamu that day.

Then, I flew to another park, and Katina returned home. Katina spent the night swimming around her tank thousands of miles away from her pod. She was fed frozen fish and performed tricks for the crowds. Every day has been the same.

Bart Van Meele, image credit

The 2013 release of Blackfish (the documentary that told the story of Tilikum, the orca) revealed the trauma suffered by captive orcas. At the same time, orcas are still being bred in venues around the globe, Sea World in 2016 committed to stopping captive breeding. This is great news for orcas and good news for all the dolphins and whales at SeaWorld parks.

The dolphin family’s smaller species are the most commonly kept in captivity. Orcas are the largest dolphin species. In particular, the bottlenose dolphins (the ‘Flipper’) account for 80% of all dolphins in captivity.

Dolphin shows and swimming with dolphins has been less popular recently. Our 2019 survey found that acceptance of swimming with dolphins has dropped from 67% down to 58% over 5 years. However, these dolphins of smaller sizes are still waiting for their “Blackfish” moment. This is when the entire world will see the horrors we are inflicting on intelligent, social animals to entertain ourselves.

From 18-24 months, human babies can see themselves in a mirror. Bottlenose dolphins, however, have been able to recognize themselves as infants as young as seven months old. Their intelligence and the strength of their social bonds have been proven repeatedly. Yet, we live in a world where they are trained to jump through hoops and promised chunks of frozen fish.

Last month, I was on boats and cliffs in Scotland with my binoculars. It was amazing to see minke whales, Risso’s dolphins, and harbour porpoises. I was astonished at the sight of one fin.

Image: Wild orcas from Scotland

After receiving many text messages regarding sightings along the coast, I was scrambling across the headland with my phone. Just when I thought I was giving up, they appeared. Six orcas were moving together tightly, their entire bodies visible from my perspective above them. My thoughts turned to Katina. I spent my entire life in her tank, far from her pod. She performed tricks for frozen fish, and she was long gone.

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Hero image credit: Lloyd Edwards/ Raggy Charters