Monday, August 20, 2012

A Western View - Remembering Shouka

In early 2004, the amusement industry was caught off guard with the announcement that Six Flags would be selling their Ohio theme park, Worlds of Adventure, to rival Cedar Fair.  Along with the announcement it was stated that Cedar Fair had no interest in operating an animal park, meaning that the hundreds of animals at the park would soon need a new home.  Among those animals was a killer whale named Shouka, and she would soon be headed to her new home at Six Flags Marine World in California.

As Marine World began it’s 2004 season, the park was buzzing with anticipation of their new arrival.  Pacific Stadium began its transformation to Shouka Stadium with its pools and filtration systems being renovated.  Employees began wearing “We Love Shouka” buttons and banners were attached to the park’s clock tower with large letters saying “SHOUKA - Arriving This Spring.”

Shouka Arrives at her new home.
© Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
And then ,after what felt like endless months of excitement, in the middle of the night a large cargo jet landed at Travis Air Force Base carrying over 300 animals included the much anticipate Shouka.   After a CHP escorted journey 20 miles down Interstate 80, Shouka arrived at her new home.

Shouka is acclimated to the water.
© Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Shouka was an instant success with park guests who had been craving a killer whale show again (the parks former whales had passed away a few years earlier).  Shouka Stadium’s 3,000+ capacity was constantly packed solid for shows as Shouka delighted crowds.

After some time at the park, it was obvious (not to mention legally required) that Shouka needed a companion.  The park moved Merlin, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, into Shouka stadium, but this wasn’t a match made in heaven.  Shouka and Merlin were almost always separated in different pools and seemed to have a serious problem getting along.  For the entire 2006 season, Shouka didn’t perform in shows at all due to behavioral issues where she was generally uncooperative with her trainers.

Six Flags, under the leadership of CEO Mark Shapiro, began and intense and aggressive search for a killer whale companion for Shouka.  The company attempted negotiations with SeaWorld parks and Marineland in Canada to have Shouka mate with another whale so that she could have a baby, and thus a companion.  Competitiveness won though, with both entities choosing it was better for their business that Six Flags didn’t have more whales, and SeaWorld going as far as requesting she be moved to one of their parks.  Another attempt to procure a whale from South America seemed to be going well until it came to light that the whale had been captured illegally, resulting in Six Flags immediately calling off the deal.

Shouka entertains a large crowd.
© Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Near the end of the 2006 Shouka began to come around and seemed to be on the up and up with Merlin.  She performed happily again starting in 2007, a year that the park once again emphasized her presence as they rebranded to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.  Shouka Stadium received another update with new backgrounds.  Everything seemed to be going great and continued that way for many years.  The park added more dolphins off and on to Shouka Stadium, giving Shouka more company.

Shouka with Cupid
© Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
In 2011, however, the issues between Shouka and Merlin came about again and Merlin was moved out of the stadium once again leaving her alone.  The park again had to begin searching for a solution to Shouka’s solitude.

This season, Shouka remained a hot topic as an online petition surfaced urging Six Flags to move the whale to SeaWorld so that she can be with her own kind.  The park acknowledged that a solution was needed and they were considering all options.  Throughout the summer rumors swirled that the park was looking to move Shouka to a new home, and this morning those rumors were proven true.

Shouka was officially moved from her home at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in the early hours of August 20th, the first day the park was closed since the beginning of summer.  Shouka’s destination was SeaWorld San Diego, where she will be integrated into the existing Killer Whale family.  SeaWorld has said that Shouka will be used in their Shamu shows, though when that will happen is unclear.
Shouka meets Corky at SeaWorld San Diego
© SeaWorld San Diego
Obviously this is fantastic news when it comes to the care and well being of such an amazing creature, but it comes with immense sadness throughout the entire San Francisco Bay Area.  Shouka was loved by millions and was a true icon for the park, with her image depicted leaping over the front gate, as well as in the park’s logo.

During my time at the park, I grew very fond of Shouka.  Whether it was assisting with massive crowds at her show or getting to go back stage of the stadium, the memories she created are irreplaceable.  I couldn’t help but having endearing feelings for the large mammal and she will be sorely missed.. 

Sadness aside, I am excited for Shouka’s future and wish her the very best in her new home.  I know I cannot wait to go down and see her once again.