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Kiska, 'the loneliest whale in the world,' dies at Canada amusement park

Kiska, Marineland's last living orca, is seen at the amusement park in 2012.
Tara Walton
/
Toronto Star via Getty Images
Kiska, Marineland's last living orca, is seen at the amusement park in 2012.

Kiska, the last captive killer whale in Canada — also known as "the loneliest whale in the world" — has died, according to local media.

The orca, believed to be 47 years old, died on Thursday, Ontario's solicitor general ministry spokesperson Brent Ross confirmed to CBC. Kiska, who spent over four decades in captivity, resided at Marineland, a zoo and amusement park in Niagara Falls, after being captured in Icelandic waters in 1979 alongside Keiko, the star of the movie, Free Willy, the publication reported.

The news comes four years after the country officially banned whales, dolphins and porpoises from being bred or held in captivity. However marine mammals, like Kiska, that were already held in captivity would remain so, according to the new legislation.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said Kiska "spent her final years isolated in a cramped tank, swimming in endless circles or sometimes floating listlessly."

Kiska's life of continued isolation led the Whale Sanctuary Project to describe her as "the loneliest whale in the world."

Both animal rights groups reported that Kiska died of a bacterial infection. NPR has not independently confirmed the cause of death. Ross told CBC that animal welfare officials had conducted a necropsy of the mammal. Marineland has not returned NPR's multiple messages seeking comment.

Kiska underwent several hardships while residing at the amusement park, according to PETA. This included the deaths of all five of her calves and the departure of her sole tankmate, Ikaika, in 2011, according to the animal rights organization. Footage of Kiska purportedly slamming her face against her tank multiple times also began circulating on social media in 2021.

Animal welfare activists have responded to the news of the death with concerns about the orca's treatment while in captivity.

"It is heartbreaking to know that Kiska will never have the chance to be relocated to a whale sanctuary, and experience the freedom that she so deeply deserved," Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, told CBC.

There are at least 55 orcas being held in captivity in marine parks around the world, as of Jan. 9, according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation. SeaWorld, which has three marine parks in the United States, holds more orcas in captivity than any other individual park.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.