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One of the five orcas at Marineland Antibes in France has died. This tragic news has been confirmed after last week’s flooding in the South of France wreaked havoc inside the captive entertainment facility. The floods, which damaged 90 percent of facility’s site, also filled its animals’ tanks with muddy water.
The captive-born male, known as Valentin, is the second orca to have died at the facility this year, following the death of his wild-caught Icelandic mother, Freya. Freya died in June an alleged heart attack, after a long, unidentified illness and at this time, Marineland Antibes says that the cause of Valentin’s death is unknown. Freya was only in her early thirties when she died and Valentin was nineteen-years-old.
The remaining four orcas at Marineland Antibes are reportedly not doing well. According to Dauphin Libre in Belgium, the orcas are struggling to eat in the murky waters and the facility’s trainers have lost control of the animals, rendering them unable to “make [the orcas] obey [commands] for medical examinations.”
The orcas are also fighting with one another as water levels have dropped, reducing their already-limited space and there is still a risk of infection and irritation from high bacteria levels in the stagnant water. With temperatures currently as high as 73 degrees Fahrenheit in Antibes, the heat could further exacerbate dangers to the captive-born orcas, which are all of Icelandic descent.
John Hargrove, a former trainer at Marineland Antibes, recently sent a letter to the facility, condemning the orca stadium’s filtration system. Hargrove wrote, “Incredibly, the horrific water quality…today is not much worse than when I was a trainer there, when the sub par filtration system was ill-equipped to handle the volume of water and bioload of, at that time, seven orcas.”
Hargrove, who worked at the French facility from 2001 to 2002, went on to say of the filtration system when he worked at the facility, “The filtration system was so inadequate that there was often zero visibility, and it could take close to a week before all the water was completely exchanged, resulting in standing algae on the water surface – proof of stagnant water. The malfunctioning chlorine injection system caused eye burns so severe that they could potentially lead to blindness. The whales were once so badly burned that they couldn’t open their eyes for days, and sheets of skin from their head and back just peeled away. The whales were obviously in terrible pain.”
Samantha Goddard, Secretary for Dolphinaria-Free Europe, has said the coalition is also worried about the remaining orcas’ welfare. Concern for the orcas at Marineland Antibes is now unmistakable following this appalling news. “We at Dolphinaria-Free Europe ask Marineland Antibes to explain why the animals have not been moved to clean water and we urge the facility to announce the plan it has in place to prevent further loss,” Goddard told One Green Planet.
As well as Valentin, some of the fish, stingrays, turtles and smaller animals, (including rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, goats and sheep) have also died within the last week under Marineland Antibes’ care. Shockingly, this doesn’t appear to be the first time that Marineland Antibes has been affected by floods. In 2011, the facility allegedly suffered damage from heavy rain and flooding, resulting in another closure.
“If Marineland Antibes was aware of any risk of flooding related to its location, then the question begs to be asked why it has not taken preventative measures to protect its animals prior to this weekend’s floods. The timing of this event may have been unforeseen by the facility, but the plan in place to protect the animals should not be,” Goddard told One Green Planet.
While these are unusual circumstances at Marineland Antibes, the reality is that captivity greatly reduces the quality of life, welfare and typically the lifespan of whales and dolphins. In this instance, Marineland Antibes does not appear to have been prepared for the flooding, even though it has occurred in the area and has affected the facility before. While the facility has yet to release any information about its plans to rectify the horrific situation its orcas are in, it would seem that whatever it does do will be watched now more closely than ever by all those who care for its four remaining orcas.
All image source: Orca Aware