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SAN DIEGO At Large

2 Orky Fans Feel Cheated Out of a Last Goodby

October 10, 1988|ANTHONY PERRY

Was there an Orky cover-up? Did his Sea World masters needlessly delay telling Orky's fans of his demise?

Two psychologists from Los Angeles who were visiting Sea World the day the killer whale died of old age feel cheated and abused by the way they found out about his death.

Erika Chopich and Margaret Paul are longtime Orky-ites, from his days with Marineland of the Pacific, the Rancho Palos Verdes amusement park that Sea World's corporate parent bought and closed last year.

Still miffed by the closure, Chopich and Paul had traveled to San Diego "to see our old friends."

To their delight, their pilgrimage came just three days after the birth of a calf sired by Orky. While they were gazing at the new arrival, things went sour.

"I saw the divers getting out of the back holding tank, and I knew something was wrong," Chopich said. "And then I saw them pulling the tarp over the tank, and then I realized Orky was dead."

For several hours, Chopich and Paul tried frantically to inquire about Orky.

One trainer said Orky was fine, and another tried to convince Chopich and Paul that a female whale was Orky, Chopich said. A restaurant worker made a call and came back with reassurance that Orky was alive and well, Chopich added.

Only after a lengthy discussion with the public relations office staff did the two visitors learn the truth that had already been relayed to the media.

"The secretiveness and all the guards--there's a real sense of betrayal about this," Chopich said. "It doesn't promote any kind of trust in the people who are in charge of such valuable animals."

As a psychologist who helps people cope with grief, Chopich feels Sea World blew it.

"It was hard for me personally, because he was just a few hundred yards from me in that tank, and I felt that I didn't get to say goodby," Chopich said.

Sea World officials are sorry if Chopich and Paul feel bruised but said the women should realize the stress inflicted on all Sea World employees by Orky's death.

"If an animal dies, you can't just say, 'Oh, he died,' " said Sea World spokeswoman Corrine Brindley. "You have to be able to say how it died, why, and what we're going to do. It's not very comforting to say, 'He passed away.' "

Assembling the necessary facts takes time, Brindley said.

"I'm very sorry that they (Chopich and Paul) had such a negative, abrupt experience," she said. "But you've got to understand that emotions were running high."

Quick, Who Said That?

That was then, this is now.

When Brian Bilbray was mayor of Imperial Beach, he ardently supported building a marina on that city's coastal marshlands. He bitterly resisted attempts by environmentalists to preserve the wetlands as a bird sanctuary.

"In Imperial Beach," Bilbray was known to harrumph, "we say, 'Leave no tern unstoned.' "

The environmentalists, in large measure, prevailed, and a ceremonial ground breaking was held recently for the Tijuana Estuary Visitors Center.

Serving as master of ceremonies was Brian Bilbray, now the county supervisor from South Bay. He still mourns the fact that he has to drive to Coronado or San Diego to go boating, but he's learned to settle for a partial loaf.

"At least with the interpretive center, the people of Imperial Beach get some benefit," he says.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Press releases we released immediately.

From the public information office at UC San Diego:

"An evening of dance by Momix, the dance group named after a milk supplement for veal calves, will take place 8 p.m. Oct. 13 . . . ."

Momix? It's a spinoff of a troupe called Philobolus, named for a light-sensitive fungus.

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