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SeaWorld gets killer whale after custody dispute resolved

November 15, 2011 |  8:37 am

Killer whale arrives at SeaWorld
SeaWorld San Diego welcomed a new killer whale over the weekend after a months-long international custody dispute was resolved.

The 9-year-old orca Ikaika, nicknamed Ike, was at the center of a fight between a Canadian marine park and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

SeaWorld had loaned Ike to the Marineland in Niagara Falls, Canada, about five years ago as part of a breeding exchange in which SeaWorld received four beluga whales. SeaWorld said late last year it planned to cancel the exchange agreement once the initial term expired, prompting Marineland to refuse to relinquish Ike. It said SeaWorld could not unilaterally cancel the agreement and that the two parties intended Ike to stay long-term at the Canadian park.

Courts in Canada had already sided with SeaWorld in the dispute, prompting Marineland to take its case to a federal court in the U.S. But it lost there, too.

On Friday, a U.S. judge denied a request for an injunction that would have blocked SeaWorld from taking the whale. Within 24 hours of that denial, SeaWorld transported Ike overnight to San Diego.

The transfer began Saturday evening, when Ike was lifted out of his pool at Marineland and into a waiting transport truck. A witness to the procession as it drove toward an airport in Hamilton, Canada, told the Toronto Star that the caravan included at least 14 police cruisers with lights flashing, two transport trucks and a crane. The 4,000-pound animal was subsequently flown in a cargo plane to California.

"He was in the water in San Diego early Sunday morning," SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs said Monday. "Everything went great."

At SeaWorld San Diego, Ike will replace Sumar, a 12-year-old male who died unexpectedly last year. Ike was born in August 2002 at SeaWorld Orlando. His father is Tilikum, the 12,000-pound whale that killed a SeaWorld Orlando trainer in February 2010.

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-- Jason Garcia, Orlando Sentinel

Photo: Whales Ikaika, left, and Corky at SeaWorld San Diego. Credit: SeaWorld San Diego