Orca’s sudden death at the theme park sparks backlash

The “unexpected” death of a 12-year-old male orca named Moana at a theme park in France last week sparked calls for a boycott and backlash from animal and marine conservation groups around the world.

Moana died sometime overnight on October 17, according to an online statement from Marineland d’Antibes in southern France, where the young whale lived in captivity. His cause of death was unknown at the time of publication. The French theme park said an autopsy had been carried out and the results were expected in the next few weeks.

“This loss is extremely painful for all zoo teams, for the zookeepers who have formed such a bond with Moana, and for everyone who loves Marineland,” the theme park said in an online statement announcing the orca’s death . “Moana shaped our history and will be greatly missed; he will forever remain in the hearts of our teams.”

While Moana’s cause of death has not been announced, animal rights groups have accused the French theme park of forcing the orcas to live in “poor conditions.”

Moana Orca Sudden Death
An employee trains an orca in a pool at the Marineland theme park in a French Riviera town in southeastern France on March 17, 2016. The theme park is under fire after a 12-year-old orca named Moana suddenly died.

Newsweek reached out to Marineland d’Antibes for comment via email and social media on Monday.

Moana was born in captivity on March 16, 2011 through artificial insemination and spent his entire life at Marineland d’Antibes on the French Riviera with three other orcas: his mother Wikie, his half-brother Keijo and his uncle Inouk. His father Ulises was “wild-caught” in waters off the coast of Iceland in 1980 and sent to the Barcelona Zoo in Spain, where he lived without other orcas before finally being transported to SeaWorld San Diego, where he has been for nearly 30 years, according to the French Navy lives and the aquatic animal advocacy group C’est Assez!

“He spent his entire life in a small concrete amphitheater where his main job was to entertain crowds of tourists,” the animal rights group said.

The group founded in France in 2014 according to its websitesuggested in an online statement against Marineland d’Antibes shortly after the theme park announced Moana’s death.

“C’est Assez! files a complaint for lack of proper care and involuntary harm to an animal’s life,” the statement said. “The organization is also seeking detailed information about the circumstances that led to Moana’s death.

French animal rights group One vote says it has been working for two years to document and condemn the “worrisomely deteriorating condition of the tanks” where the orcas live at Marineland. The group said it filed a complaint in 2021, noting that Moana was in “poor health.” In the complaint, OneVoice called on the French Environment Ministry to conduct an independent investigation and urged a precautionary closure of the theme park.

“We were right from the start, and that gives us no satisfaction: Moana was in danger“OneVoice said in an online statement. “He was wasting away, his skin, the sudden collapse of his dorsal fin, his stereotypical behavior and the state of his teeth… all expressed his distress.” It was nothing more than a cry for help.

The group said they are now demanding justice for Moana and asking to help his family.

“Our hearts are full of anger,” OneVoice said. “The Ministry of Ecology didn’t lift a finger to help him, Inouk, Keijo or Wikie.”

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting whales and dolphins, also described the facility as being in “poor condition.”

WDC said Oct. 13 that an independent investigation had been legally enforced and that experts had found all four orcas had “behavioral problems,” in addition to “deep skin injuries” in Moana and poor dental health in Inouk.

Marine Connection, an advocacy group that works to create a safer world for all whales, said there was “ongoing concern about the unsuitable conditions” in which all four orcas lived at Marineland.

“Algae-covered pools – such terrible conditions in which these magnificent marine mammals live every day,” the group said.

Moana’s family members at Marineland face an uncertain fate as a French law introduced in 2020 stipulates that orca captivity in France will end by 2030, according to WDC.

“Marineland is therefore in contact with marine parks in Asia and the orcas may be relocated to Japan,” WDC said in an online statement. “The transfer occurred both in… [European Union] EU and in Japan.”

C’est Assez! said the group feared that living conditions for orcas in Japan would be “even worse than in France.”

“A transfer to another facility would be further unbearable trauma for this group of orcas, which has experienced many deaths and forced separations over the years,” said group spokeswoman Julie Labille. “Wikie, who is undoubtedly traumatized and grieving the loss of her son Moana, should not also have to endure being moved to another concrete tank.”

Efforts by animal rights groups to establish a marine sanctuary for France’s remaining orcas have been unsuccessful, WDC said, adding: “Marineland has refused to cooperate.”

“Moana is the fourth orca to die in a dolphinarium in the EU in the last three years,” said Ulla Christina Ludewig, WDC anti-captivity campaigner. “It is high time to stop keeping these intelligent and sensitive marine mammals in concrete tanks. WDC is committed to building coastal sanctuaries where orcas and other dolphins in captivity could live a more species-appropriate life if released into the wild is not possible.

In 2018, Moana, along with his mother Wikie, made international headlines and gained widespread recognition for learning to imitate human speech by using their blowholes to imitate laughter and words such as “hello” and “bye.”