A 19-year-old female killer whale arrived Monday at her new SeaWorld San Diego home and was introduced to the park's other killer whales, officials announced.
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The killer whale, named "Shouka," previously resided at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, according to Dave Koontz, Sea World spokesman.
Shouka had a bottlenose dolphin as a companion at that park, but a compatibility issue prompted the pair to be separated. Six Flags officials tried to find another suitable companionship for her, but ultimately could not, Koontz said.
"The decision was made to relocate her to a place where she could live with companions, preferably killer whales," he said.
Federal laws require killer whales, which are highly social, to have a companion.
Although the killer whale was living alone until her transfer, she was "socially enriched" by interacting with trainers and was not isolated, he said.
"These animals are meant to be communicating with each other and similar animals for decades. For them to be in a tank alone, it must be like solitary confinement for a human," said Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center who has studied orcas in the wild extensively.
Shouka was flown from Oakland to Lindbergh Field about 6 a.m. in a nylon sling inside a foam-padded container filled with water. The container was loaded onto a flatbed truck with a veterinarian, animal care specialists and trainers and taken to SeaWorld with a California Highway Patrol escort, Koontz said.
A crane lowered Shouka into the park's Shamu pool complex.
"The first order of business here will be for her to become introduced and integrated into the killer whale family here -- we have eight killer whales already -- as well as get to know her new trainers and acclimate herself to her new home," Koontz said. Shouka spent time today with the park's oldest female killer whale, "Corky," he said.
"When you put them in the same pool, it'll be interesting to see how they respond," said Pitman.
In July, cellphone video captured Shouka lunging aggressively at a trainer during a show.
Investigative journalist David Kirby, who wrote a book detailing the dangers of captivity for killer whales, said, "She may have been acting out, saying, 'Hey, I need attention, I need companionship,'" said Kirby.
When 10News asked SeaWorld officials about Shouka's lunging episode, a representative said her complete history would be factored in when preparing a training regimen.
Shouka previously performed in shows, but Koontz said there was no timetable for when Shouka would be able to perform at the San Diego park.
"Our training here is based solely on positive reinforcement, so the animals are never forced to do anything," Koontz said. "We will let her take her time and get used to her new home."
Shouka had been on a long-term breeding loan from Marineland in France for about 10 years. He said that loan was extended to SeaWorld San Diego.
"There's nothing specific out there that's saying what we're going to do, but there's no reason she can't be a part of our breeding program," Koontz said.
Some media outlets have dubbed Shouka "the loneliest whale in the world," and online petitions have encouraged Shouka be sent back to Marineland.
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