Kiska and Other Troubles

As I skimmed the news this morning, one story affected my emotions more than any other.

More than news about the obscenely high cost of housing in Hong Kong—and the financial distance between the richest and the poorest in that city.

More than my fury at the Norfolk Southern CEO’s refusal to commit to compensating residents of East Palestine, Ohio for the damage done to their property values as a result of the recent, catastrophic train derailment.

More than the relative absence in Big Media of news about Russia’s assault on Ukraine—have media executives decided that audiences have grown weary of news about the war?

More than stories about the heart-wrenching impact on California of the “atmospheric river” dumping unprecedented amounts of rain and snow on large parts of the already water-logged state.

The news that crushed me was the story about the death of Kiska, the last killer whale—orca—in captivity in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Kiska was roughly 47 years old. She spent the last 43 years of her life in captivity, swimming in circles in what was described as a cramped tank, alone. The Whale Sanctuary Project described her as “the loneliest whale in the world.” According to the Whale Sanctuary Project, describing Kiska’s behavior in the tank in which she was held captive:

Video footage and eyewitness accounts depict Kiska’s behavior as repetitive and lethargic. When not swimming in slow circles or bashing herself into the side of her tank, she often simply floats in place, staring at the emptiness that is the inside of her tank.

Reading about Kiska’s death, and a bit about her life in captivity and efforts to retire her to an ocean-based sanctuary, deepened my sorrow. Several years of legal battles, bureaucratic processes, and competing commercial and protective interests delayed Kiska’s transfer to a planned sanctuary in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia. Just last month, the mayor of Niagara Falls announced the possibility of a sale of Marineland, where Kiska was held captive; the mayor’s announcement (in which he committed to the safety and care of the facility’s animals) revived excitement that Kiska would finally be transferred to a sanctuary. But she died, reportedly of a bacterial infection, on or around March 10.

According to the Whale Sanctuary Project:

…Kiska gave birth, as a young adult (at Marineland), to five calves. All of them died young: Athena, Hudson, Nova, Kanuck and one who didn’t survive long enough to be named. Studies suggest that orcas’ capacity to feel deep, complex emotions rivals or even exceeds the emotional capacity possessed by humans. The bond between mother and calf is so deep that it is hard to imagine the grief and trauma of each of Kiska’s losses over the years.

News about the whale’s life and death did more than simply sadden me. It wrecked me for more than a little while. The reality that humans capture, confine, and put on display a creature as magnificent as an orca is stunning to me. I cannot fully fathom the absences of compassion that must be required to permit such an atrocity, much less to actively engage in it. But I will admit that my judgment of the people involved in the 44-year confinement of Kiska may be clouded by my emotions. Perhaps the people who confined her and looked after her and fed her felt they were caring for her in the best way they could. If so, my loathing for them could be reduced a notch. But, still, their confinement of the creature was, in my view, a despicable act. I am glad the Canadian Parliament, in June 2019, passed Bill S-203, the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, which phases out the captivity of cetaceans in Canada. I am sorry the Act was not enacted many years earlier, though, which might have given Kiska at least a few years’ taste of freedom.


More church today. I am not in the mood for church, but will attend anyway. Even after quite some time, now approaching five years, as a member of the church, I still do not like calling it church. I have come to accept that it is, indeed, a church but my bias against the idea of church—hardened by roughly 64 years of disdain—has not yet been worn down. I have no better name for it, though. “Fellowship” does not quite do it, nor does “Gathering.” I have not found a satisfactory word that erases my bias at the same time it adequately describes the way the institution helps fuel certain aspects of my psychological and other emotional life. Maybe I am just a stubborn curmudgeon, intent on defending my sometimes indefensible disdain for anything that calls itself—or is called by others—organized religion. Sometimes, I long to be more firmly committed to my bigotry. I wish, at times, that my prejudice were more fierce in its hold on me. If that were the case, I would not have to wrestle with recognizing possible flaws in my thoughts or beliefs. But I have a tendency to question myself and what I think I believe. That questioning puts up an almost insurmountable roadblock to certainty. Certainty would be so much more comfortable. Refusing to allow possibilities that call into question my perspectives would make my emotional life a smoother, less chaotic experience. Unless, of course, the refusal itself might run counter to everything that drives me. Ach!


I ate some delicious cake last night, as well as two cookies. And I had some pasta and a wonderful soup that included potatoes. All of those edibles tasted incredibly good, but they contributed to a blood glucose measurement of 114, considerably higher than I want. No carbs for me today. At least not much. Only a VERY little amount, if any. I wish I did not have to refrain from alcohol and severely limit my intake of carbs, etc. This evening, I would like to enjoy a big helping of pasta arrabiata and a glass of dry red wine. And, after dinner, I would like to sip on a gin & tonic and munch on some highly caloric, carb-rich snack crackers. Almost eight months have passed since I had a drink of alcohol (though I have had a sip of mi novia’s gin & tonic or her wine, from time to time). And during the last two months I have dramatically reduced my intake of carbohydrates and cut back on my consumption of food, in general. The only obvious benefit of those changes in my habits is the loss of about 34 pounds since last July, 14 of which have dropped since the beginning of the year. Weighing the benefits between gustatory freedom and greater physical flexibility, I would have to say the latter is of longer-lasting value. But the former is a joy I deeply miss. Ah, well. Such is life; life as a living, breathing, decaying organism.


Speaking of food…I’m really not hungry. Maybe a glass of tomato juice will be enough…

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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