One Dolphin’s Story – Sharkane
Sharkane, a female, was one of four orcas captured off the coast of Iceland in 1989. Like most Icelandic orcas captured for export to amusement parks abroad, they were yanked out of the ocean during the month of October when an abundance of herring attracts pods of orcas. The capture team can easily encircle them with a large purse seine net—imagine a gigantic bag in the water—and select the ones that fit the desired criteria for size, gender, and overall appearance. Dolphinariums typically want young orcas, probably because they are easier to handle, control, and train. A female called Ran and another female named Ai were sold to an aquarium in Japan. Marineland in Antibes, France, which is a popular tourist attraction on the French Riviera between Cannes and Nice, purchased Sharkane along with a young male named Tanouk.
Marineland, also known as Marineland d’Antibes, was founded in 1970 and advertises performing bottlenose dolphins along with thrilling water slides, miniature golf, and a three-star resort. From June 1970 to January 1990, the amusement park purchased a total of eight wild-caught orcas. A female belonging to the community of Northern residents and captured in Pender Habour, Canada, in December 1969, arrived at Marineland’s orca stadium during the summer of 1970. A male Southern resident orca, captured in the US state of Washington in August 1970, was sold to Marineland that same year.
From the mid-’70s, Marineland’s demand for young trainable orcas became a significant motivator for Iceland’s trade in wild orcas. As far as I know, the trade began with the export of a young male (named Kim) to Marineland in November 1976 and ended with the captures of Sharkane, Tenouk, Ran, and Ai 13 years later. These four became the last orcas ever captured in Iceland for the dolphinarium industry, but by the time Icelandic authorities finally stopped the trade, more than 50 orcas had already been taken from its waters and sold to amusement parks in Europe, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Japan. (SeaWorld of the United States was among the buyers.)
When Sharkane and Tanouk were transported from a holding facility near Reykjavik, Iceland, to the French Riviera in January of 1990, Marineland had two other orcas on display. Freya, a female, and Kim 2, a male, were both captured in Iceland a little over seven years earlier, in October 1982.
Sharkane would spend the next two decades as a performer on the French Riviera and was incorporated into Marineland’s breeding program, giving birth to her first calf, a female sired by Kim 2, in February 1993. According to late dolphin freedom campaigner Yvon Godefroid, Sharkane’s daughter, Shouka, became the first surviving offspring to a captive orca in France. For some reason, Marineland decided not to let Shouka remain with her family. In 2002, when Shouka was nine years old, they sent her to the Six Flags amusement park in Ohio, USA. She was then shipped in 2004 to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California, and finally, in 2012, ended up at SeaWorld’s theme park in San Diego.
Sharkane gave birth to a second calf, a male, in February of 1999, and Marineland named him Inouk. He was also sired by Kim 2. Just two years and four months later, in June 2001, Sharkane became a mother for the third time. Once again, the father of her calf, named Wikie, was Kim 2.
When Sharkane’s life ended in March 2009, after performing countless shows in front of cheering holiday makers, she became the sixth wild-caught orca, and the forth wild-caught Icelandic orca, to die within the concrete walls of Marineland’s dreary stadium. The others were Calypso (from Canada), Clovis (from the USA), and Kim, Betty, and Kim 2 (all from Iceland). Tanouk, who came from Iceland at the same time as Sharkane, died in 2000, but not at Marineland. He died at Izu-Mito Sea Paradise in Japan, which is the amusement park Marineland sold him to in November 1995.
Today, Marineland d’Antibes is one of the last two remaining tourist attractions within the European Union that still has orcas in captivity. The other is Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain, where four orcas currently perform in shows.
Sharkane’s firstborn daughter, Shouka, still performs at SeaWorld’s theme park in San Diego, while Inouk and Wikie fulfill their roles as entertainers at Marineland d’Antibes along with two young males named Moana and Keijo.
Moana and Keijo’s mother is Wikie, making them Sharkane’s “grandchildren.”
Featured image: On July 12, 2015, Sharkane’s son Inouk and her daughter Wikie performed alongside Moana, Keijo, and now deceased Valentin at Marineland d’Antibes on the French Riviera. Valentin’s mother Freya died on June 20, just three weeks before this photo was taken. Her son Valentin died in October that same year. Credit: Mai Li O’Barry/Dolphin Project