A female killer whale died in a theme park aged just twenty.
Kohana was the daughter of Tilikum, the subject of the documentary black fish and responsible for the deaths of three coaches.
Kohana’s death is the third orca to die in the Loro Parque marine park in Tenerife, Spain, in the past 18 months.
Previously, in August 2021, a three-year-old orca named Ula died, and shortly before that, in March 2021, 17-year-old Skyla died. In the wild, female killer whales can live up to 80 years.
Killer whales are the largest dolphin species and are known for their intelligence and social cooperation. They live and hunt in groups called pods and work together to use specialized techniques to hunt their prey.
According to the nonprofit Dolphin Project of dolphin activism Rick O’Barry, Kohana was born in captivity at SeaWorld San Diego and sent to Tenerife when she was just three years old on a breeding loan. .
According to the British charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the bond between orca mothers and calves is extremely close. In the wild, killer whales live in social family groups led by matriarchs, who are often the mothers of many members of the group.
Some killer whales stay with their mother for life, passing on hunting skills and other knowledge to their offspring.
The other orcas Kohana was sent with were her own sister, half-brother, and uncle, close relatives she would not naturally breed with in the wild. Kohana gave birth at age eight, making her the youngest orca to ever give birth in captivity, to a calf fathered by her uncle.
In the wild, female killer whales don’t start mating until they are 14 to 15 years old.
She rejected both that calf and a second calf she delivered years later, and they had to be raised by the park’s human trainers. Her second calf died when she was 10 months old.
While killer whales have never been recorded attacking and killing a human in the wild, captive killer whales have been known to show aggression towards their handlers and even kill them. There have been four recorded deaths caused by orcas in captivity, three of which Tilikum, Kohana’s father, was responsible for.
Keltie Lee Byrne (first victim) and Dawn Brancheau (third victim) were trainers at SeaWorld Orlando who were pulled underwater by Tilikum and ultimately died from drowning or blunt force trauma.
SeaWorld maintained that Daniel P. Dukes, the second fatality, was an intruder who (unauthorized and unsupervised) climbed into the Tilikum pool and drowned.
Captivity is thought to make killer whales aggressive towards trainers, each other and themselves, often gnawing on tank walls and doors, leading to dental damage.
“Killer whales are very social and traditionally very vocal animals. So for an animal like this to be in such an unnatural environment most likely caused psychosis,” said Deborah Giles, science and research director of Washington State non-profit organization Wild. Orca, previously told Newsweek.
“I personally believe he was driven insane by the environment he was forced to live in. It probably wasn’t premeditated. There’s no way of knowing, of course. But he had interacted with Dawn Brancheau for years and years before that. . I think something broke.”
SeaWorld announced in March 2016 that they would soon cease all theatrical shows and the breeding of orcas. However, visitors can still see orca shows in the parks, as of September 2022.
Newsweek has contacted SeaWorld and Loro Parque for comment.