'The pilot whales just don't have the prestige or the significance that killer whales carry.'
midnight rider of killer whales
After 20 years of enforced monogamy, Corky and Orky, the killer-whale stars of Marineland in Rancho Palos Verdes, left Wednesday to play the field with Sea World's three killer whales in San Diego.
Their owners expect the two groups to like each other and start "breeding as soon as they get to know each other," said Jim Antrim, vice president and general curator at the Sea World park. "Killer whales are known to be polygamous."
But neighbors and visitors said they'll be missed.
Like a couple eloping, the departure of Corky and Orky took place in the middle of the night but their getaway, far from spontaneous, was orchestrated with the detail of a big church wedding.
It took a crane late Tuesday to hoist Corky, a muscular male who weighs in at 14,000 pounds, and the svelte Orky, a mere 9,500 pounds, into specially constructed travel tanks with a capacity of 10,000 gallons.
A Sight for Motorists
With trainers in the tanks to monitor their moods, the two whales rolled sedately down the San Diego Freeway, surrounded by police escorts. Other cars could see Corky's prominent dorsal fin sticking out over the top of the tank.
"I imagine it turned a few heads when we were going down the road," Antrim said.
The trip did not affect their appetite. Shortly after the pair arrived at Sea World at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, they got into their pool, swam around and had a snack. "They can be seen today," Antrim said Wednesday.
But only in San Diego.
Marineland has plans to give star billing to Bubbles and Bangles, two pilot whales, and maintains that the pilot whales, which are much smaller creatures, will provide entertainment every bit as arresting as Corky and Orky, who "kissed" their trainers on cue.
"We anticipate a pretty exciting show," said Ed Asper, Marineland's general curator, adding that the show also would include white-sided and bottle-nose dolphins and another yet-to-be-determined performing sea animal.
"Oh, no," groaned David Mulligan, a Marineland neighbor who achieved brief notoriety last week after he rode the whales around the tank on a midnight lark. "The pilot whales--they just don't have the prestige or the significance that killer whales carry."
Asper, Marineland general curator, said he did not know if the pilot whales will kiss their trainers.
Scott Beerer, 13, a seventh-grader from Cypress who was on a school field trip to Marineland Wednesday, said he was disappointed not to see the whales "because that is what most people come to see."
"We heard a rumor at school that the whales were gone but the teacher said they were still here," said Brian Ward, another Cypress seventh-grader.
A large sign outside the Marineland gates announced that the whales would not be seen Wednesday.
No Plans to Replace Them
Asper said there are no immediate plans to replace Corky and Orky with other killer whales and he added that whether the whales will ever be replaced depends on the success of the breeding program.
Corky and Orky have produced calves at Marineland but they have not survived.
Sea World handlers are counting on a larger tank and special training to improve the chances of Corky and Orky mating successfully.
Shamu, the only killer whale calf to survive infancy, was born at Sea World of Florida in Orlando 16 months ago. Before the birth, the mother was given special training to roll over so the baby, which weighed about 325 pounds at birth, would be able to nurse.
In addition to the special training, the whales will have more room to swim in the 6.5-million-gallon pool in San Diego, which is considerably bigger than the pool at Marineland. The transfer of Corky and Orky comes about three weeks after Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which owns the Sea World parks and Cypress Gardens in Florida, assumed ownership of Marineland.
Asper said there are no plans to move any other Marineland attractions to San Diego.