The tragic life of Kiska, Canada’s last captive orca

Kiska was known as the loneliest whale in the world. She spent the past 12 years completely isolated from any other species and ultimately died in her concrete prison on the 10th of March 2023.

She is gone, but her memory remains…

As heartbreaking as it is, a life in a concrete tank isn’t a life at all. Her suffering is over. And this is her story.

Kiska was captured in the North Atlantic ocean near Iceland in 1979. She was only a calf back then, approximately 3 years old. After a brief stay in an Icelandic aquarium she was sold to MarineLand Canada.

Many don’t know she wasn’t sold alone. Keiko, the famous Free Willy orca was shipped to MarineLand alongside Kiska. We don’t know whether they knew each other beforehand or even belonged to the same pod. We do know they both came from Iceland and spent years in MarineLand together until Keiko was sold to a Mexican park called Reino Aventura in 1985.

While being used as a money-machine to perform tricks for cheering crowds of ignorant people, MarineLand also had other plans for Kiska – breeding. Orcas are elite animals, and of course, the Canadian entertainment industry couldn’t pass up an opportunity to collect more of them. Between 1992 and 2004, Kiska gave birth to 5 calves; Kanuck, Nova, Hudson, Athena and her firstborn, who died too young to receive a name. Unfortunately, none of Kiska’s calves lived longer than a few years, and so, the orca had to go through the trauma of losing a child five times over.

Orcas are highly intelligent and emotional animals. Studies suggest they are capable of feeling deep emotional connections and might even exceed the emotional capacity possessed by humans. The bond between a mother and a calf is so deep it is very hard to imagine the trauma she repeatedly had to face.

We know that in the wild, orcas live together in pods for their whole life. They hunt, care for their young ones and each other just like any family should. They learn from their mothers and grandmothers throughout their whole life and become very emotionally attached. Kiska was robbed of all that.

Kiska’s last companion was Ikaia, a male orca belonging to SeaWorld Orlando, who was initially transferred to MarineLand in hopes to breed with Kiska in the upcoming years, when he’d be old enough. In 2009, thanks to his health issues regarding teeth and MarineLand’s poor ability to do something about it, SeaWorld decided to take Ikaia back. That was the last time Kiska wasn’t completely alone..

From 2011 until 2023, all Kiska could do was stare at the emptiness of the inside of her tank.

Activists took countless footage showing Kiska’s lethargic and self-harming behavior. Lifeless floating in the same place would be replaced by circling around her tank and repeatedly bashing her head over the tank’s glass wall. Phil Demers, also known as the Walrus Whisperer, has been raising awareness about her horrible conditions for years and managed to put videos of Kiska in front of the eyes of millions by using social media, appearing on TV news and in newspapers, and also as a guest on famous podcasts.

Unfortunately, nothing was done. Kiska died in that very same tank. As much as it breaks the hearts of many of us, it also gives us a certain peace knowing she’s no longer suffering.

In June 2019 the Canadian Parliament passed the bill S-203, the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, which makes Kiska the very last captive orca in Canada ever.

Let’s not let her death be in vain. The fight doesn’t end with Kiska. There are still orcas and other cetaceans suffering in captivity all over the world. We still have time to change the world for them but we have to be louder than ever. We have to unite, push hard and be strong. Let’s be the voices for the ones who cannot speak for themselves.

If you’d like to be a part of the change and help end cetacean captivity once and for all, follow @orcalegacy, @walrus_whisperer and @urgentseas. Share the content, help spread the knowledge, donate. If you’d like to do even more and  have some unique skills, shoot us a message. There is strength in numbers and we are building an army.

With hopes for better future,


Video source: UrgentSeas
Image source: Mike Dibattista, TorontoStar