Deadly storms swept through the southern coast of France during October of 2015 causing severe flooding and extensive damage at Marineland Antibes, the largest marine park in all of Europe.
Initial reports from witnesses claimed animals had escaped from their tanks, many found dead, and that most of the orca tanks were inundated with mud and debris. The manager of Marineland at the time, Bernard Giampaolo, assured the public that the orcas were not “dying on the parking lot” and that the “situation with the animals was beginning to stabilize.”
Pictures, however, portrayed a heartbreaking and grave scene. All but 90 percent of Marineland was completely devastated.
In the days following the flooding, the parks oxygenation and filtration systems were overwhelmed, causing water quality to plummet as mud and debris began to infiltrate the system. Officials tried to maintain that the animals were healthy despite the state of the park, but on October 12th Marineland confirmed reports that a 19-year-old male orca named Valentin had died. The flooding is thought to have played a pivotal, if not the singular, role in his death.
Like many captive orcas, Valentin did not survive into his adult years. The circumstances surrounding his death may have been extreme and unusual, but looking back at his life in captivity as well as that of his parents, it seems that his story and death is not an anomaly but rather one that is all too similar to that of many captive orcas.
In 1982, two one-year-old orcas, Kim2 (a male) and Freya (a female), were captured from Icelandic waters and shipped to Marineland Antibes. Taken from the wild and their families when they were just a year old, these orcas spent most of their lives in captivity performing for the public.
Freya and Kim2 were bred repeatedly during their time at Marineland, but of Freya’s five pregnancies, only one of her calves was not stillborn –- they named him Valentin.
Valentin’s father, Kim 2, died from pneumonia in 2005 at just 23-years-old. Freya, Valentin’s mother, was known for being a headstrong matriarch and would often refuse to perform, leading the other whales to refuse as well. Freya died in the summer of 2015 at Marineland of an alleged heart attack.
Neither of Valentin’s parents lived to be anywhere close to the life expectancy of wild orcas. Sadly, the Valentin destined for the same fate.
Life at Marineland for Valentin
Valentin was considered one of the more gentle and mild-mannered orcas, favored by his former trainer, John Hargrove. He had the opportunity to grow up alongside his mother Freya, a natural progression in the life of wild orcas but something captive orcas rarely get to experience. Despite the bond he shared with his mother and his pleasant disposition, Valentin still suffered in captivity.
At the age of 19, Valentin’s dorsal fin was beginning to collapse. Researchers believe that dorsal fin collapse is directly associated with limited space to swim freely in captivity, along with a diet comprised primarily of frozen fish. Additionally, Valentin displayed stereotypic behaviors symptomatic of stress such as chewing on the bars and banging his head on the walls of his tank.
Over time, Valentin began to exhibit signs of aggression. In an interview with The Dodo, John Hargrove stated that he would give Valentin drugs “to suppress his testosterone levels when we swam with him because management was so fearful of aggression by a sexually mature male.” Like Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando, semen samples were routinely taken from Valentin in spite of his aggressive tendencies and the stereotypic behaviors he displayed in captivity.
Marineland has yet to release the official cause of death for Valentin, but the fact that he, along with four other orcas, was left to languish in dirty and polluted flood waters for days on end seems to have played a major role in his passing. The facility already had a history of flooding and their lack of a quick and pointed response to remedy the situation does not bode well for the future of the animals Valentin leaves behind.
SeaWorld, the largest and most well known of all marine mammal parks, was conveniently absent when the news of Freya broke, and interestingly enough, have yet to comment on this heartbreaking news both of the flooding and of the death of Valentin.
The truth is, most marine facilities have not succeeded in raising or fostering healthy, stable animals in captivity. Although the flooding that took place at Marineland is out of the ordinary, it’s apparent that the facility wasn’t prepared or equipped to deal with an emergency to such a degree. Sadly, it was Valentin and the other animals held captive at Marineland that suffered as a result.