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5 Famous Killer Whales Known for Strange, Unlikely, or Depressing Circumstances

3 weeks ago


One of the most conflicting feelings you get in this job is the thrill of recognizing famous killer whales by name, but then realizing if you didn’t recognize that name, that would mean that the orca in question would probably still be free, be healthy, or simply be alive.

It’s a reality our society has been dealing with for a hundred years – how to live in harmony with our aquatic neighbours. Fortunately times, they are a’changin’, but not early enough for some of the famous killer whales on this list. This is an update to our post from before on 5 famous killer whales.

1. Luna the Whale: Reincarnation

Luna the Whale showed up in Nootka Sound in 2004 and was so affectionate toward sea-goers that people worried about his brash behaviour. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans actually approved his capture for the purposes of captivity. Here’s the thing though: Luna wasn’t just a killer whale; he was the reincarnated soul of the recently deceased chief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations People. The capture was halted for the former chief, but tragically, Luna the Whale would soon experience a similar fate: killed by a tugboat in 2006.

Luna The Whale was made into a movie in 2007. Luna: Spirit of the Whale

2. Springer: Re-Integration

There’s nothing better than a happy ending. Springer was a carefree orca whale doing her own thing in the waters north of Vancouver Island in 2002 when she was identified by vocal calls specific to her pod.

A pod that was 250 miles away.

Springer’s story is one that illuminates the good that capture can do. A risky endeavour, nonetheless the risk was deemed worth it and Springer was brought to a pen in Washington State, treated, rehabilitated, and eventually transferred to another pen in Johnstone Strait. After being released from the pen, Springer was observed travelling with her pod in Johnstone Strait the following summer, ten years later, and in 2017, this time with two young calves in tow.

3. Tilikum: A Movement

Tilikum, the unfortunate star of the disturbing documentary Blackfish, has died. I’ve followed this story closely in the years since Blackfish was released, both for the interests of Orca Spirit but also because of the heartbreak and rage I’ve felt watching Tilikum’s misery in captivity and my own guilt from the joy I felt watching killer whales in the Vancouver Aquarium when I was young.

But part of me is happy he’s gone. His torment is over, and legions of angry people are fighting to ensure his death was not in vain.

4. Ikaiki: Son of Tilikum

Is it happening again? Ikaiki was born at Seaworld Orlando to Tilikum and Katina. Close with his siblings, Ikaiki was sent away to Marineland in Ontario when he was 4 years old, and has been moved around frequently due to custody concerns, care concerns, and other concerns outside of the water. He was moved to Seaworld San Diego in 2012 where he remains today. For now Ikaiki seems to enjoy his pod mates and aside from the occasional nervous moment with trainers, is doing well in captivity: the only life he’s ever known.

5. Ulises: The Last of His Kind

Another old male killer whale in Sea World San Diego fortunately hasn’t lived the same life of solitary confinement experienced by the troubled Tillikum, but nonetheless remains chained to a life of captivity. That’s Ulises, the oldest orca in captivity at 40 years old. He has companions at Seaworld, such as Orkid, a dominant female that loves making new friends. But he’s also kept away from other orcas at Seaworld for their safety. It probably won’t be long before we hear about Ulises again.


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