Thursday 11 February 2016 | 11

Valentin’s last voyage

Valentin was born on the 13th of February 1996 in the confines of a pool, no place for an orca. He would die there on the 12th of October 2015, at the age of 19, having never left Marineland, Antibes.

Hr blog

Birth

The orcas circle nervously in the pool. Shouka and Kim, as well as Sharkane, the Godmother, who is supervising the birth and who will soon guide the child to the surface. First the tailfin, followed by the body, little by little from Freya's stomach. In a cloud of blood, Valentin enters the world. He discovers the tiny universe in which he will live for his for his whole life: the concrete walls, the turbulent, chlorine tasting water, the noise. And above the water, he sees buildings, stands and humans walking around. Walls everywhere. The orca basin as it was in 1996 is now home to the dolphins. Five inmates are contained there. First of all, Freya has to teach her son not to injure himself on the concrete walls, and to learn how to break his momentum so as not to hit the walls whilst playing. Nothing prepares a cetacean, even one born in captivity, to live in a tank.

Training

At six months, Valentin takes part in his first shows, swimming under his mother and nursing to the background noise of clapping. When weaned at the age of one, he quickly learns from the trainers that if he has to work if he wants fish. He must be disciplined and not play around during the show. He also has to accept the separation from his mother, isolated in another basin. Little Prince Valentin becomes very popular, with a fan club and a Facebook page. Teenagers exchange his best photos annotated with hearts. We easily recognise his beauty spot to the right of his throat.

Sorrow

Val is the second orca to be born in Marineland after Shouka, Sharkane's daughter, her oldest of three years and his playmate. He is also the first surviving child of Freya, who was thought to be infertile because of previous x-ray treatment. Before Val, she had given birth to her first stillborn in March 1991, then a second in 1993. After Val's birth, she would go on to lose three more children, in 2001 and 2003. So you can imagine how much she loves and protects her son. After her last miscarriage, an already unwell Freya drops into a depression. Floating away from the others, she doesn't participate in the shows anymore, and no longer obeys the trainers. She comes up occasionally and hits her head against the windows of the main pool, again and again, consumed by sadness. 

Valentin takes this all in, and suffers to see his mother in pain. She had already been hit hard by the departure of her adored half-sister Shouka in 2002. The young orca had been sent to Vallejo in the United States, where she would live on her own for ten years. As for Valentin, he begins to exhibit stereotypical displacement behaviour which he will repeat for the rest of his life: his stomach in the air, hitting his forehead against the sides of his pool next to the "trainers cave".

Grief

Upon Freya's death in June 2015, Valentin's world would collapse once again. His mother was the last orca caught by Marineland. Constantly ill during her short life, she had visible scars from x-rays on her side. A "heart-attack," declared Marineland, but Freya had other reasons to die. Leaving behind a bewildered little family in her wake, unguided having lost their matriarch, it is a terrible shock for the five surviving members. But Marineland has no time to let them grieve for Freya, putting on a show the very same evening, to "distract" them from their sorrow and to not lose clients. Valentin however, is not "distracted" by the show, nor by any future show. A feeling of emptiness and abandonment takes hold that only the son loved by a orca can understand. 

A brutal change in power relations takes place within the walls of the basin: Freya now dead, Val is no longer the protected little prince. His social status collapses and he finds himself in front of his nagging half-sister in charge of two children, and his shy half-brother, Inouk. Tensions build and fights erupt. Freya is no longer there to keep order. By summer 2015, Valentin is a shadow, floating motionless on his own in a corner of the chemical blue pool. Around Val, a fairground atmosphere: incessant music, the noise of visitors, food odours and lighting until late at night. Valentin doesn't listen any longer, he hardly moves anymore.

Death

The days go by. The temperature increases. Then suddenly, the sky opens. Heavy rain falls on the region. Marineland is submerged by mud and dirt and the basin waters become yellowy brown. The survivors are closed off into a small lateral basin to protect them from the infected water. They fight and they bite each other. Wikie falls ill and is isolated. Is Valentin still alive? Did he not survive seeing the collapse of his family? Has he swallowed something toxic? Has he been injured by a stand chair catapulted by the wind? Have his injuries become infected? Did he die during the flooding? We know nothing. 

On Monday the 12 th of October, Marineland management publish a brief press release: "Marineland is extremely sad to announce the death today at 12.00 of Valentin, an orca born in the park", adding two days later: "The first physical examination of Valentin, who died a few days ago, shows an intestinal torsion like that which can occur in a horse or a dog". But orcas are not dogs, and twisted intestines caused by stress don't happen to them at sea. 

Every day, they travel an average of 160km and dive to depths of more than 100 metres. Valentin only completed one short journey in his short life, from Marineland Antibes to the knackery. An enormous crane lifted his body from the crib that had become his grave, as it had done for many others before him. Since the opening in 1970 of Marineland, Antibes, nine other adults have died young, on top of all the miscarriages. Calypso died at 11 years of age, Clovis at 4, Kim at 14, Betty at 13, Kim2 at 27, Sharkane at 23, Tanouk at 14, and Freya at 32. The average age of a wild orca is between 50 and 80 years old. Granny, the matriarch of J Pod has reached 104 years of age. Valentin, he only made it to 19...

If his parents had not been captured, today Valentin would be a wonderful male cutting through the waves in the Iceland sea with his big straight fin. He would swim alongside his mother, still alive with her life ahead of her, and with all of his brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. He would hunt herring, play, have many close friends in other tribes, and have some children here and there. Every day, his life would be a new adventure in the icy fjord water. But man had decided otherwise. Valentin spent his life in a dungeon, his stomach ravaged by ulcers, his chin cut from rubbing against the concrete tanks, and his backfin drooping over time.
This is not how orcas live

Yvon Godefroid
Hr blog

In the subject

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Comments 11

I accept that publication of my comments is subject to the code of conduct.

LAPINOU06 | Saturday 15 October 2016

Ces animaux n'ont rien à faire là ils souffrent ils sont exploités et forcés à faire des choses juste pour l'amusement et pour l'argent! Mais a-t-on pensé à eux? Ne serait ce qu'une seule fois? Il faut cesser ce genre de choses pour eux ce n'est simplement qu'une prison.

carole | Friday 14 October 2016

Que nous sommes vils nous les hommes, nous faisons de l'argent de tout et surtout de la misère animale, de quel droit capturons-nous des animaux sauvages pour les enfermer et les laisser mourir !

Viv@ | Tuesday 23 February 2016

Quand on ne sait rien, on se tait !

Marie | Monday 15 February 2016

Condamné à perpétuité sans avoir commis le moindre crime. Comme tous les animaux captifs. Merci One voice d'avoir mis en ligne ce texte remarquqble, en espérant de tout coeur que cela puisse contribuer à faire cesser ces abominations que constituent l'emprisonnement et l'exploitation des orques, des dauphins, de tous les animaux. TOUS.