Kina the false killer whale to move to Oahu marine park
WAIMANALO, HAWAII | Compared with other marine mammals, 40-year-old Kina has lived a particularly winding and high-profile life.
She went from the open ocean off Japan, to a Hong Kong amusement park, to a classified U.S. Navy program, to a Hawaii research lab. Along the way, studies using the false killer whale — a dark-gray member of the dolphin family with a big, round beak — led to major discoveries on whale hearing and aided in the development of military sonar.
“The work that [researchers] have done over the years is quite valuable, and certainly groundbreaking,” said Robin Baird, a marine biologist with the nonprofit Cascadia Research Collective, a scientific and education group based in Olympia, Washington.
Now, Kina is again making waves, this time with her latest move to an Oahu marine park.
Animal-rights activists say the 13-foot-long, toothy mammal and her captive companions deserve peaceful retirements but instead are being traumatized as tourist attractions confined to concrete tanks.
But Kina’s handlers maintain she is in excellent care, receiving the best food, veterinary attention and stimulating training, all while continuing to contribute to important science. And park officials say she won’t take part in any acrobatic shows like other dolphins in their care.
Kina’s journey started in the wild more than 30 years ago, when she was captured during a Japanese dolphin hunt. She is believed to be the last living animal in the U.S. from that now-widely condemned fishery. The fishermen sold her to a Hong Kong amusement park, where the U.S. Navy acquired her in 1987.
For the next six years, the Navy used Kina for classified research on sonar, the use of sound to communicate, maneuver and detect objects underwater. It kept her at a Marine base on Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay, the largest sheltered body of water in the main Hawaiian Islands.
When that program ended, Kina went to a University of Hawaii lab on Coconut Island, also in Kaneohe Bay, where her science career continued for more than 20 years. She took part in echolocation studies that someday could lessen the impacts of humanmade ocean noise on marine wildlife.
But the university was spending nearly $1 million a year to care for Kina in an ocean pen. So in 2015, amid serious funding problems, the school was forced to auction off Kina and her two dolphin companions.
Sea Life Park, a family attraction just outside Honolulu, put in the highest bid, and the trio has been living there, backstage, ever since.
Animal-rights activists blasted the move as inhumane. Some recently led an online “#JusticeForKina” campaign to express their concerns about her confinement at the park, which they say causes physical and psychological distress.
Jeff Pawloski, Kina’s trainer at the Navy lab 30 years ago and now Sea Life Park’s curator, said the campaign has led to a lot of misinformation.
For instance, the park boasts daily dolphin shows and allows visitors — those willing to pay a premium price — the chance to swim with the dolphins. Mr. Pawloski says that won’t happen with Kina. Instead, he hopes his old “friend” will help educate the public about how her research aids wild animals.
Kina, a 40-year-old false killer whale, has contributed to science for the past 30 years is again making waves after being sold to the marine amusement park.