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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Home at last: Giant killer whale in bizarre custody battle arrives in California

-SeaWorld in San Diego is suing Canadian marine park after refusing to return 'loanee' whale Ikaika
-Whale's father, Tilikum, killed his trainer at SeaWorld in Florida

By Paul Thompson

SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, is demanding the return of Ikaika, pictured swimming in a tank at Marineland in Niagara Falls

A killer whale at the centre of an international custody battle has arrived in California.

Ike, a nine year old Orca, was flown to SeaWorld in San Diego after a year long legal battle over ownership between the US theme park and a Canadian marine park.

The whale's father is Tilikum the 12,000lb whale that killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010 at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.

Ike was transported from Marineland theme park in Toronto, Canada, by a14 vehicle police escort.

It was flown overnight on a cargo plan fitted with a special water tank to San Diego and released into the theme park’s pools where it will join the other killer whales.

Ike had been at Marineland for the last five years after being loaned by SeaWorld as part of a breeding exchange.

SeaWorld received four beluga whales while it was hoped Ike would breed and produce a number of calves for the Toronto based theme park.

Ikaika, Katina, and Taku (from left) perform in Sea World. Marine parks in North America are banned from importing wild-caught orcas, but the law does not apply to those born in captivity

Last year Seaworld demanded the return on Ike - but bosses at Marineland refused saying they were led to believe Ike was on a long term loan.

Lawyers for Marineland argued that SeaWorld did not have the authority to cancel the agreement.

They also claimed SeaWorld only wanted Ike back as one of their performing killer whales,Sumar, had died last year.

SeaWorld insisted they wanted Ike back in their care as they were concerned for his health.

Courts in Ontario, Canada, sided with SeaWorld and US courts also backed the decision to return the whale to San Diego.

Tilikum continued to perform after killing its trainer Dawn Brancheau, right, in a tragic poolside accident in February 2010

Ms Brancheau had been nose-to-nose with the whale when her pony tail floated into the animal's mouth and she was dragged in

A judge in Orlando refused to grant Marinland an injunction preventing the transfer.

A spokesman for SeaWorld said the transfer of Ike had been a success.

'He was in the water in San Diego early Sunday morning. Everything went great,' insisted SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs.

Since the death of 40-year-old Brancheau, trainers are no longer allowed in the water with the killer whales.

The Orlando attraction was fined over $50,000 by health and safety officials following the tragic death which was witnessed by up to a dozen visitors.



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