Canada's last killer whale in captivity dies at Marineland theme park

FILE - Over 300 protesters gathered on Portage Road in front of Niagara Fall's Marineland Saturday August 18, 2012. (Tara Walton/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The killer whale named Kiska at Canada’s Marineland theme park, the country’s last captive orca who swam alone in her tank for more than a decade, has died.

Brent Ross, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Solicitor General in Ontario that oversees animal welfare in the province, said Monday that the theme park in Niagara Falls, Ontario, informed the province of the death last week.

Kiska was believed to be 47 years old and had lived at Marineland since being captured in Icelandic waters in 1979. She was captured alongside Keiko, who became famous in the movie "Free Willy," and the pair lived together for a few years at Marineland in the 1980s. Keiko was sold to an aquarium in Mexico in 1985 and eventually ended up at SeaWorld in the U.S.

Kiska appeared in shows at Marineland for years but had not performed for more than a decade. She spent that time in a large pool at the park’s Friendship Cove separated from a pod of belugas.

SeaWorld also has stopped its theatrical shows with orcas and ended its breeding program in 2017, meaning that its current orcas will be the brand's last generation in captivity.

The Marineland park told the Niagara Falls Review newspaper that the killer whale’s health declined recently "despite intensive interventions" by theme park employees and an international team of veterinarians.

Professionals hired by Marineland have conducted a necropsy on Friday in the presence of province officials, Ross said.

Marineland’s owner, Marie Holer, declined to comment.

In 2021, the province found that there were problems with the theme park's water system and ordered repairs for pools that house belugas, dolphins, walruses, sea lions and Kiska, court documents show. Marineland initially appealed the order, denying the findings, but later dropped the appeal.

The province has inspected the theme park 160 times since January 2020, but has declined to release findings of the inspections.

Christine Santos, who trained Kiska for 12 years until Marineland fired her in 2012, said she was in shock about news of the death.

"But at the same time I’m just really relieved she’s not alone anymore," Santos said.

Kiska was calm and easy to work with but also sometimes mischievous. She sometimes tricked new trainers into giving "her more fish and more rubs," Santos said.