Freya was first caught off the coast of Iceland in 1982 when she was just about one year old. She spent the next several decades held in captivity at Marineland on the southern shore of France in Antibes.
During her stay in Marineland, Freya gave birth to several orcas in the park and earned the title of matriarch.
Her collapsed dorsal fin demonstrated her declining health. Though rare in the wild, the collapsed fin is common to almost all male — and some female — orcas in captivity.
More recently, former SeaWorld trainer and "Blackfish" interviewee John Hargrove published a memoir titled "Beneath The Surface," chronicling his experience training orcas. In an excerpt available via NPR, Hargrove details an incident with Freya when the orca pulled him under the surface by her jaw.
Freya was refusing to follow any of the signals I had taught her. It wasn't as if she didn't know what I wanted. She just wouldn't cooperate — nor did she want any of the fish I had in my hand. She pushed at my torso with her head, propelling me with her mouth, which remained obstinately shut. Her nearly 7,000 pounds of orca muscle directed me farther into the middle of the pool, farther from the safety of the perimeter.
Hargrove attributes orca whale aggression to their captivity rather than their natural demeanor.
Wild orcas tend to live 50 years on average and can live up to 3-4 more decades. On Saturday, Freya died after only 32 years of life.
Marineland was quick to defend the park's "conservation mission." Near the end of the post announcing Freya's death, the amusement park included a line propagating the park's success. They also noted that the park will publicly release a study detailing the causes of her death.
Marineland announced the sad news Freya, the eldest orca in family, died after a long illness.
After more than 32 years with [her] trainers and [her] group of orcas, the matriarch leaves today Wikie, Inouk, Valentin, Moana and Keijo all born the Park.
The team trainers, veterinarians and experts have devoted their efforts for several months to heal [Freya]. They made sure she had no pain and in that time, Freya stayed with [her] social group.
Analyses will be performed by a veterinary expert team, to know the cause of death. The findings will be published.
The many births also in recent years (the Moana and Keijo orcas, polar bear cub Hope, gray baby sharks, turtles ...) comfort the teams in the success of the park conservation missions.
For more stories about orcas in captivity from The Dodo, click here.