18 September 2014

Goodbye Tonka - Subic marine park’s last false killer whale dies

SUBIC BAY FREE PORT—The last of the highly trained false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) that have become star attractions at the Ocean Adventure Marine Park here died on Saturday, park officials announced on Thursday.

Tonka, who was 18 years old, succumbed to an inoperable bowel disorder, “despite the best medical efforts and 24-hour care,” said Gail Laule, executive vice president of Ocean Adventure. The disorder that killed Tonka was “common to false killer whales in the wild and those in human care,” Laule added.

Tonka was reportedly the last of six false killer whales that Ocean Adventure had imported in 2001 for display at its open-water park here.

Ocean Adventure had four species of cetaceans: false killer whale, bottlenose dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin and spotted dolphin.

Laule said Tonka was rescued in 1996 from the Japanese drive fishery, which she described as a tightly regulated program to control wild populations of whales and dolphins to protect Japanese coastal fish stocks.

For the next 18 years, Tonka reportedly lived with other cetaceans in Ocean Adventure’s natural open-water lagoons where he could dive deep, swim fast and catch live fish, Laule said.

The park official added Tonka and the other marine mammals at Ocean Adventure were at the core of a strong educational and conservation agenda.

“Tonka won the hearts of millions of visitors and schoolchildren and helped educate and motivate them to protect the oceans and the animals that inhabit them,” Laule also said.

The death of Tonka, however, revived calls by animal-rights groups like the Earth Island Institute (EII) and the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) to shut down the marine park here.

On Tuesday EII announced that it will conduct a picket in front of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Industry in Quezon City to protest Ocean Adventure operations in the wake of Tonka’s death.

However, Timothy Desmond, chairman and chief executive officer of Ocean Adventure, said in a separate statement that Tonka’s death is now being exploited by animal-rights groups “to get attention for themselves so they can make profit.”

“Groups like EII and PAWS, who do nothing directly beneficial for the cause of animal welfare, should stop using the natural death of a false killer whale for their fund-raising activities by seeking publicity,” Desmond said.

He added that, for many years, EII and PAWS have engaged in a campaign attacking the reputation of Ocean Adventure “by deliberately making false claims and generating negative publicity against the company.”

“The truth is, these groups know next to nothing about these animals. All they know, and what they are good at is making noise to damage us economically.” (Henry Empeño, BusinessMirror)

Tonka, a 10-year-old false killer whale at Ocean Adventure. Photo courtesy of the Free Tonka Facebook page