Aquarium's two whales are transferred to Texas Beluga Kia, Sikku flown to Sea World

March 20, 1992|By Bruce Reid and Michael James | Bruce Reid and Michael James,Staff Writers

The National Aquarium's two beluga whales arrived at Sea World in San Antonio yesterday, joining the world's largest captive population of the species.

Kia and Sikku arrived by plane about 10 a.m. EST at Kelly Air Base, 12 miles from Sea World, said its curator, Glenn Young. The animals, which were monitored en route by veterinarians, were not showing any problems, he said.

"Everything went according to plan. There's been nothing unusual," Mr. Young said.

The whales were placed in acclimation tanks apart from 10 other beluga already at Sea World. They will stay in the tanks for an undetermined number of days, then join the other whales in the display tank.

At 1:30 a.m. yesterday, the whales were loaded into watertight boxes at the National Aquarium and were trucked to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. About 6 a.m., they were put aboard a Southern Air Transport flight.

"We'll be accused of being clandestine for doing it in the middle of the night, but it really is the best time for them," said Chris Andrews, the aquarium's animal director.

Kia and Sikku were silent and appeared calm as they waited in their boxes to be trucked to BWI. The loading process, using a crane to hoist the half-ton mammals from their tank, took 35 minutes.

"I didn't hear them make a sound," said Mr. Andrews, who said the animals' monitored respiration did not show any signs of distress.

Aquarium officials say the Dec. 23 death of a third beluga, Anore, brought on the movement of Kia and Sikku. Anore apparently was killed by one of the aquarium's six bottlenosed dolphins during a training exercise.

"We didn't want to risk another problem, and we knew we were going to need more space," said aquarium spokesman Vicki Aversa. The aquarium will focus on the raising and training of its dolphins, she said.

Aquarium officials say the movement occurred at night so the water temperature in the shipment tanks would remain stable. Also, less traffic was on the road between the aquarium and BWI, reducing the chances of an accident.

The timing had nothing to do with protesters, Ms. Aversa said.

Animal-rights activists have opposed keeping whales and dolphins in captivity and showing them in performances, saying both do psychological and physical harm to the animals.

A team of Sea World representatives arrived in Baltimore on Monday to assist with the move to the Texas facility, where the whales' new home will be a 2 million-gallon tank shared with the other beluga.

About one-third of the beluga in captivity are at Sea World -- the world's largest captive population.

Kia and Sikku will be on "breeding loan" to Sea World, and the National Aquarium has reserved the rights to any offspring.

But it is unlikely that beluga, which had been part of the city aquarium since 1988, will be returning to Baltimore any time soon, Mr. Andrews said.

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