NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. -- Ikaika is back home.
The killer whale, the one at the heart of a custody battle between Marineland and SeaWorld, was removed from the Niagara Falls amusement park Saturday night by a fleet of transport trucks, a crane and more than a dozen Niagara Regional Police escorts cars.
"Ikaika was moved from Marineland to SeaWorld San Diego overnight," confirmed Fred Jacobs, a spokesman for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, located in Orlando, Fla, via e-mail Sunday.
"We typically do transports of this type at night to avoid disruptions in local traffic and in our park operations. The transport went perfectly and (Ikaika) is in the water in San Diego now, swimming with the park's other whales."
Niagara police Staff Sgt. Pat McCauley confirmed Niagara police were hired on special duty to assist with the transfer of the whale.
SeaWord loaned Ikaika, an 1,815-kilogram orca, to Marineland in 2006 in exchange for four beluga whales. But last year, the Florida company started legal action to scrap the deal and have Ikaika returned.
In September, an Ontario Court of Appeal panel rejected Marineland's claim that the whale should stay in Niagara Falls.
The appeal court upheld a lower court decision that Ikaika belonged to SeaWorld. The Florida park had a termination clause built into its loan agreement with Marineland.
"This was not a guaranteed, long-term relationship," Justice Stephen Goudge wrote in a nine-page ruling. "The termination provision is clear and not commercially unreasonable."
A convoy of transport trucks and the fleet of Niagara police cars arrived at Marineland around 6 p.m., Saturday, said John (Ringo) Beam, a Niagara Falls businessman whose ice-making company sold about 520 pounds of ice to truck drivers from Empire Transportation, a Grimsby, Ont., specialty trucking company.
Beam said he sold 20 26-pound bags to the truckers around 5 p.m. Beam's curiosity was piqued when they wanted to meet at the McLeod Rd. Canadian Tire parking lot, showed up in a transport truck and said they needed the ice to cool something.
He figured it had something to do with either Marineland or Strabag, the company building a massive hydro tunnel under the city.
"That's the only thing out there," Beam said.
Beam suspected it had something to do with the Ikaika saga, so he followed them to Marineland's Stanley Ave. entrance.
The convoy went into Marineland from the Stanley Ave. service entrance. The trucking company and police spent about two hours inside the park. A crane and floodlights could be seen from Marineland Pkwy., on the park's north side.
Shortly after 8 p.m., the police escorts returned to the Stanley Ave., entrance and awaited the fleet of trucks, which included one truck with a blue tarp covering the cargo on its trailer. Another transport and a crane were part of the convoy.
"The move was conducted in the same way that all of these transports are," said Jacobs. "The whale is removed from the water in a sling by a crane, placed in a transport unit with water in it; the transport unit is trucked to the airport where its loaded on a cargo plane.
"The process is reversed on the other end. The animal is attended to by veterinarians and animal-care specialists throughout the process.
"Ike is in good health and has responded very well to the habitat at SeaWorld. It is a seven-million-gallon pool with six other whales."
Jacobs said the whale transfer was initiated by SeaWorld.
"As you are aware, Canadian courts have ruled in our favour several times, most recently this week. We are still in active litigation with Marineland in the U.S. and I'm unable to comment further on legal matters."
John Holer, founder and president of Marineland, couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.
Marineland and SeaWorld have been in court all year, fighting over custody of the whale, which was on loan from SeaWorld as part of Marineland's breeding program.
Marineland has one other killer whale, a female called Kiska.
SeaWorld has 19 whales in the United States, which is the world's largest collection of captive killer whales.