Liberty for Kshamenk?


“When we return wild animals to nature, we merely return them to what is already theirs. For man cannot give wild animals freedom, they can only take it away.” – Jacques Cousteau

Liberation may be around the corner for Kshamenk (shah-men-k), a captive orca living at Mundo Marino in Argentina. Though it is said that Kshamenk stranded accidentally in 1992, rumors have since circulated that the stranding may have been forced by whale captors. At the time, the young transient whale was only 5 years old.  Kshamenk lived with a female companion named Belen for 8 years, before she died in 2000 of a kidney infection.

Like all captive orcas, Kshamenk’s life in a cage has been cruel. Bottlenose dolphins have been his only companions for the 13 years since Belen’s death. As a 25 year old lone orca bull, Kshamenk experiences sexual frustration which he has expressed by mating with his dolphin tank mates. He is described by his trainers as aggressive, and distant. These conditions have led many to believe that rehabilitation and release are the best options for him.

Kshamenk is owned by the State of Argentina – not the aquarium Mundo Marino. A recent article has announced that the government of Argentina is analyzing a project that would potentially release Kshamenk. The English translation of the article reads:

“Kshamenk is a male orca who was captured and put in captivity in 1992. Since then he has been in captivity inside an aquarium in San Clemente, Argentina. The government of Chubut is analyzing a project requesting the reintroduction of Kshamenk to the ocean and the re-adaptation and rehabilitation and liberation into his natural habitat.

Specialists indicate that the Argentine legislation states the Kshamenk belongs to the state. They are saying that an animal that was born in the wild should not be kept in an aquarium.

Whales have an approximate life span of 55 years, Kshamenk was captured when he was around 5 years old and has been in captivity for 20 years.

Because whales have a high brain capacity and a notable memory, It is possible for kshamenk to readapt without great difficulty to his natural mindset in his habitat.

The experts say that there is a higher probability that Kshamenk will be released. Kshamenk is the only captive orca in Argentina, and there are only 48 captive orcas in the world. This case could be the example for other cases. this is after the much publicized and failed attempt to free keiko.”

One of the most prominent concerns expressed by pro-captivity activists regarding Kshamenk’s potential release, is the fact that we do not know where his pod is. Kshamenk is a transient orca, and transient orcas have a very fluid social order. When a mother transient gives birth to a calf, the older sibling will leave the mother to join a different group of whales (usually no more than 6 or 7). It is unnecessary to search for Kshamenk’s natal pod, because he would not be with a natal pod even if he had stayed in the wild. Transient groups continually accept new whales, so there should be no issues with Kshamenk being accepted into one of these small groups.

Pro-caps often propose that anti-caps should give captivity a chance. After all, it has only existed for 50 years, and the marine parks need some time to improve their methods and procedures before the lifespan of their animals increases. At the same time, many of them express contempt at the very notion of giving activists a second chance at captive release solely due to the “failed” mission to free Keiko. In other words, captivity should be given the benefit of the doubt in spite of failure, but when activists “fail”, they should simply give up.

There is a mindset amongst captivity supporters which says that there are only 2 options for captive orcas: life in captivity, or death after release. Of course this mindset hinges on only ONE instance of captive release, and the logic itself is based on a false dichotomy, which is fallacious reasoning.

Most captivity supporters may condemn Kshamenk’s release, but they also tend to condemn the aquarium (Mundo Marino) which keeps him captive, due to the horrific conditions of the animal care and cages. Ironically enough, Mundo Marino has a very close business partnership with SeaWorld. They recently bought sperm from Kshamenk which was used to inseminate Kasatka, who produced a calf as a result on February 14, 2012. Mundo Marino used the money given to them by SeaWorld, to buy a new big screen TV for their orca whale stadium.

As an anti-captivity activist, I have high hopes and optimism for Kshamenk’s potential rehabilitation and release to his home, the sea.

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