VICTORIA, British Columbia — A Canadian whale expert wants an ailing California killer whale now being kept in an aquarium at San Diego's Sea World returned to its native British Columbia waters to be with family when it dies.
In a whale-inventory report to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, Florida-based Sea World reported that Corky was in poor condition in San Diego.
The 26-year-old orca was captured in 1969 off the Sechelt Peninsula north of Vancouver.
"Two weeks ago we learned Corky is not expected to live past the fall," whale expert Paul Spong said Friday. The whale's kidneys are apparently failing, he said.
"We were aiming for the spring of '93. Now we've got a much shorter time to get her back to her family."
Spong has pressed for Corky's release for two years. He wants the orca returned to its pod to die.
Sealand of the Pacific, a Victoria marine exhibit, considered releasing one of its killer whales in the 1980s, but it died before the plan was realized.
Captured in Pender Harbor with 11 other members of her pod, Corky spent 16 years at Marineland of the Pacific near Los Angeles before being moved to Sea World's San Diego tank in 1987.
"Corky has done a huge amount for people over the years," said Spong. "It's time to give something back."
Even though the whale's health is failing, Spong said Corky still deserves a return to the ocean.
She is "at the bottom of the heap" in San Diego, pushed around by other whales and once viciously attacked by another female, said Spong.
"She is going to end up dying and dropping to the bottom of a concrete pool," he said. "Contrast that with her dying in the ocean, hearing the natural sounds of the sea, in the company of family."
Sea World has rejected the proposal, which would be the first release of a long-term captive whale to the wild. The company argues the whale would not be able to look after herself and is doubtful that Corky's mother is alive, Spong said.
Sea World also cites the lack of previous releases, making the attempt risky, he said.
Sea World officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Spong said Corky is considered a good candidate because she can be returned to her pod, which is well documented compared with Icelandic pods from which many of the later whales were taken.
Spong's proposal, first raised in July, 1990 at an international conference in Geneva, includes training Corky to catch live fish and carry scientific instruments.
Spong has the support of the well-established European organization, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.