Marineland faces legal complaint about Kiska, 'the world's loneliest orca'

An animal law non-profit group is calling on the Ontario government to investigate Marineland's treatment of Kiska the orca.

Videos online appear to show Kiska floating listlessly, moving slowly at Niagara Falls aquarium

An orca whale is seen.
A video of Kiska the orca at Marineland uploaded on July 16 has sparked concerns about the animal's health. (Submitted by Phil Demers)

An animal law non-profit group is calling on the Ontario government to investigate Marineland's treatment of Kiska the orca.

Animal Justice's complaint to the Ministry of the Solicitor General was viewed by CBC News. It alleges Marineland is breaking the law by subjecting the orca to conditions that don't meet her physical and mental needs.

CBC News is seeking comment from Marineland, which had not yet responded on Wednesday.

Animal Justice's complaint follows videos posted by Phil Demers, a whistleblower who is also a former trainer at the Niagara Falls aquarium.

The videos appear to show Kiska floating listlessly and moving slowly.

"She's probably the world's loneliest orca and that's very sad," said Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. "It's difficult to not feel sympathy for what she's going through."

WATCH | Video of Kiska the orca that raises concerns about her health:

Animal group concerned about Kiska the orca at Marineland

2 years ago
Duration 0:36
Featured VideoA video posted by Phil Demers, a former trainer at the Niagara Falls aquarium turned whistleblower, appears to show Kiska the orca floating listlessly and moving slowly.

The complaint comes after Animal Welfare Services inspectors issued two orders to the park in May to repair the water system in the pools that house beluga whales, dolphins, walruses, sea lions and one killer whale. The report said the animals were in distress because of the poor water quality.

Animal Justice states Kiska was captured in Iceland in 1979 when she was three years old before Marineland purchased her. The group says Kiska gave birth to five calves, but they all died young. Over time, it says, her other companions died or moved to other facilities.

Kiska has lived without other orca companions since 2011, Animal Justice says.

While it's illegal to keep whales and dolphins in captivity, Marineland has an exemption because of the rule's grandfather clause.

Scientist calls situation 'cruel'

The complaint includes comment from Dr. Naomi Rose, a scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute.

"At a minimum, she should have long since been transferred to a facility with other orcas or provided with individuals of another cetacean species as companions," Rose said in an Animal Justice media release.

"Under no circumstances was allowing her completely solitary state to continue — especially given her practically inert response to it — the appropriate choice."

Animal Justice highlighted the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, which states an animal's owner cannot cause or permit distress. The Criminal Code also doesn't allow anyone to wilfully cause or permit suffering or neglect.

"We think it's really important for enforcement agencies to take this issue seriously, and it's necessary and appropriate to do what they can to help Kiska," said Labchuk, who is also a lawyer.

"The best option ... is to convert to an animal-free attraction."

Labchuk said one potential solution could be to move Kiska to the Whale Sanctuary Project's future seaside sanctuary in Port Hilford, N.S., for whales and dolphins.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.