The Tragic Story of Tilikum’s Life And Now He is Dead

And Now He is Dead
My Take On The Story
Tere Albanese

In the early 1900s few people understood the fact that all animals are intelligent, thinking feeling beings. This was the era that gave rise to marine parks. The biggest and best was, and still is, SeaWorld.

The first marine parks started in the1960s and killer whales have been starring in them since 1965. We now understand so much more about animals. Due to the highly sophisticated levels of equipment, we have been given the ability to observe and study all animals in their natural habitats. What we have learned about the animal kingdom is that it has complex societies with strong family ties, sophisticated intellect used in hunting strategies, as well as escape strategies, rearing of young, ways of avoiding inbreeding, problem solving abilities and the use and construction of tools to build their homes and find food.

Of all the amazing aspects of animals that we have learned, probably the most meaningful is that animals have the same emotional feelings of fear, love and loss of a loved one that we do. Many of us certainly sensed this, but now we have documented proof.

Some of that proof came at a high cost.

We have learned that animals suffer from the same mental disorders brought on by the same toxic environments of loneliness, deprivation of mental stimuli and loss of freedom and family. We have learned that when an animal is taken out of their habitat and taken away from their families, they have the same longing to go back to where they came from, a place where they all call home, as we do.

We have learned that animals cry.

One of the best witnessed examples of what happens to a wild animal that suffers from all of the above is Tilikum, the star killer whale of SeaWorld for 25 years and held captive for 34 years. Tilikum has become the poster child for all animals that are taken away from their natural habitat and families and made to perform tricks for a paying public.

Steve Huxter | The Voice of the Orcas When Tilikum did not perform a trick correctly, food was withheld from both him and his tankmates, which caused a great deal of tension, and as a result, Haida and Nootka would bite Tilikum and rake the entire length of his body with their teeth.

The truth is that the orcas obey their commands so they can eat and not be punished for disobeying their commands and have their meals withheld and/or put in a holding tank, just big enough to hold one of them, alone. They are intelligent and are doing what is necessary to survive as they are held captive.

SeaWorld was the first worldwide franchise of marine animal parks. SeaWorld, and those fisherman that were among the first to capture killer whales, as well as other seafaring animals, filmed what they did, and how they did it, as historical data that they were proud of. They had no idea what the retelling of that data when viewed in the expose, Blackfish, would cause the enormous negative wave of outcry that would change the very core of marine parks and the way they are viewed.

This film changed everything, and we are now seeing that change occurring.

Blackfish, was filmed in 2013 and directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite.  It revealed the truth to the much more learned individuals of today. Even many of those involved with the capturing of orcas, when interviewed for Blackfish, admitted that what they were doing was wrong and many truly do regret what they did, but not all of them.

Not the most successful one of them all.

Unfortunately, many people will never understand what we have learned, nor do they want to.

Blackfish is the story of Tilikum, the killer whale, which shows how SeaWorld and other parks, exploited these highly intelligent sea mammals, by capturing young whales and taking them away from their mothers and family pods. The film shows how the mothers and the calves, as well as other family members, screamed for each other when separated and the entire pod would follow the boat carrying young whales captured and taken from their families. The family pod followed until they were just too tired and heartbroken to continue. Males, that live up to 60 years in the wild, spend their entire lives with their mothers, who live to 80 or 90 years old. Separation from the pod or hostility within the pods is virtually nonexistent.

Take it from Ken Balcomb, marine biologist, conservationist and orca advocate:

“When you get born into the family, you are always in the family. You don’t have a house or a home that is your location. The group is your home, and your whole identity is with your group. Aggression between members of a pod almost never occurs in the wild. “

I wish I could say the same for human families.

I learned about Ken Balcomb, and much of what I now know about captive killer whales, from two articles I read by Tim Zimmermann, who writes for Outside magazine. He also was one of the brave individuals that worked on Blackfish. One of the men that Zimmermann met on his quest to unravel just what happens to whales in captivity, is Ken Balcomb, who is now 75. His headquarters for his Center for Whale Research, is his home, which is on San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington State along the shores of Haro Strait. There he is able to study the whales that pass through and sees them from his home about 80 days of the year. If there is anything to know about orcas, nobody knows more than Balcomb. And for the record, he is one of the good guys, as is Zimmermann.

Killer whales live in family units of 20 to 60 whales that are governed by the females of the pod with the oldest female being the supreme leader. We have learned that when a wild animal is taken away from his family, the life he or she was meant to live, made to perform circus tricks and incarcerated for 34 years, it will cause them to go insane.

This is the way Tilikum was taken in 1983 at the age of two and has lived in captivity for 34 years.

Lolitta in net
The picture above is of Lolita, who was captured in the Puget Sound, Washington, 13 years earlier than Tilikum. Orca capture techniques using purse-seine nets, high-speed boats, and even underwater explosives and aircraft were perfected in Washington shortly before orca-capture operations became regulated in the United States and were outlawed in Washington state. No longer able to capture orcas from Washington waters, the orca hunters moved to the open waters near Iceland, where Tilikum was captured. Lolita is still alive.

Killer whales performing in marine parks all started with a man by the name of Ted Griffin.

Griffin owned the Seattle Marine Aquarium. He had always wanted to train a killer whale. His wish came true in 1965 when he heard of a killer whale that had become tangled in a fishing net off the coast of Namu, British Columbia. He bought the 8,000 pound orca for $8,000.00 and named him Namu. He and his partner, Don Goldsberry, built, what was the first specially built boat, to transport a live orca. You have to wonder what Griffin and Goldsberry were thinking when the entire pod followed the boat most of the way, screaming, as it took their brother and son, Namu, who was screaming back.

Namu was the third orca ever captured, but the first killer whale trained to perform in shows with a human in the water with him. Griffin successfully trained Namu and they were an overnight sensation. The killer whale show industry was born and what a money making industry it become for the marine parks and those who supplied the marine parks with captured animals. National Geographic did a story on Namu and Griffin. A movie was made about Namu in 1966, and the sensation he caused grew to astronomical proportions. Everyone that loved animals and even those that didn’t, were mesmerized by what this amazing animal could do in tandem with a fellow mortal. On the scientific front, this was unbelievable and captivating beyond a marine biologists’ wildest dreams. It was everyone’s dream come true to see this massive and beautiful animal, from the depths of the unknown, bond with a human and perform in partnership with Griffin. What they witnessed was the stuff of fairy tales. Namu might as well have been a flying unicorn and Griffin a wizard. Metaphorically, that’s what they were.


To see Namu through the glass, gazing back at you, must have been magical. Even though most of us know it is wrong, it is still magical. The children, as well as adults, were captivated by this so long ago. But as I think about it today, I wonder how strange and frustrating it is for an orca, used to nothing blocking their path in the great blue ocean, to look through the clear glass that stopped them from going forward. It stopped the curious Namu from touching the children’s hands, hands that longed to touch him as well.

This is where the fascination began and it was a worthy fascination. Fascination is a magical and wonderful state of mind, but with it came the danger and sadness that very few could see or predict.  Those that could see it had no more chance of stopping it than stopping a tidal wave. 

Namu and Griffin’s fame was enormous, but this was not what Namu was meant to do. Zimmermann wrote about this and I will quote him here: “Namu was often heard calling to other orcas from his pen in the sea, and he died within a year from an intestinal infection, probably brought on by a nearby sewage outflow. Griffin was devastated. But his partner at the aquarium, Don Goldsberry, was a blunt, hard-driving man who could see that there was still a business in killer whales.”

Based on what I read in Zimmermann’s account, Griffin truly cared for the whale he named Namu and was heartbroken by his death. However, it did not stop him from capturing more orcas, of which many died in the process and many died within a year or so in captivity. But the show must go on. Griffin and Goldsberry were now in the business of capturing and selling whales to the growing marine parks opening up all over the world.

As Zimmermann reported, “In October 1965, Goldsberry and Griffin trapped 15 killer whales in Carr Inlet, near Tacoma. One died during the hunt. Another – a 14-foot female that weighed 2,000 pounds – was captured and named Shamu (for She-Namu). In December, a fast-growing marine park in San Diego, called SeaWorld, acquired Shamu and flew her to California. Goldsberry says he and Griffin were paid $70,000. It was the start of a billion-dollar franchise.”

Goldsberry eventually became the main supplier of marine animals for SeaWorld and made a fortune doing it. He was calculating, determined and brutal. He killed many orcas in the process of being captured and transported. He caught a total of 252 whales and sold 29 of them. He also managed to kill 9 of them in his nets.

tilikum_02 -Lanolin-Huxter
Steve Huxter | The Voice of the Orcas This image shows Tilikum covered with lanolin, an oil extracted from sheep’s wool. It is applied to orcas’ whole bodies to prepare them for a long transport without water.

In 1983 it was Goldsberry who choreographed the capturing of Tilikum. “Tilikum,” ironically, means “friend” in Chinook. Another male and female were captured with him off the coast of Iceland. Tilikum was placed in a concrete holding tank for almost a year. A year of torture for a young male ripped away from his family and all he knew. The mental stress he endured going to a concrete holding pen, coming from the entire ocean and surrounded by family, was nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment for an innocent animal, and innocent fellow being.  Finally, in 1984, Tilikum was shipped to Sealand of the Pacific, off the coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.
Sealand was a bad place. In the fourteen years before Tilikum and two females, Haida and Nootka, arrived at Sealand, seven orcas had died there. They were all young whales with an average age of three and a half years old. Robert Wright was the owner of Sealand. He and his trainers trained the whales to perform in shows. The shows were every hour on the hour, eight times a day, seven days a week. The performance pool was netted mesh, 100 x 50 feet, 35 feet deep, strung from floating docks. Wright, was worried about someone cutting the net and freeing the whales or the whales chewing through the net and getting away.  So, at night the three whales were put in a steel holding tank 26 feet in diameter and 26 feet deep. They were cramped and irritable. Tilikum got the worst of it. Because females are dominant in the orca world, they bullied him, raked them with their teeth, sometimes he was so badly cut up, he could not perform.

All of them were cut up from rubbing the metal sides of the holding tank. Nootka and Tilikum developed ulcers. They were stuck in that tank for 14 1/2 hours every night. Sometimes one, or all of them, refused to go in.

If only someone had let them go. If only they had chewed their way out. Unfortunately, the story only gets worse.

Bruce Stevens, a trainer for SeaWorld from 1987 to 1989, was brought in to help improve training methods at Sealand. The most significant, invaluable and apocalyptic information Stevens gave Sealand’s trainers was written in a manual that he had given to each trainer. Stevens wrote:

“If you fail to provide your animals with the excitement they need, they will create their own excitement.”

Orcas need constant change and engagement. Stevens also made changes to their daily routines by adding learning time, playtime and mixing routines up daily. However, after Stevens left, everything went back to business as usual. It was a dangerous situation just waiting for a fatal accident to happen.

It was a known fact among people that worked with captive orcas that if anything unusual fell into the tank it would become an instant toy for them to play keep-away with, keeping it from each other and certainly from the trainers.

In fact, orcas get bored in the wild as well. I was watching a documentary on orcas many years ago that told me so much about their personalities. Those filming the documentary caught some very rare, and difficult to watch, footage. There were three young orcas that had split from their pod to do some gallivanting. They came across a mother blue whale and her very young calf. “Ahhh…. Now there’s a game we can play,” they must have said to each other. And they do talk to each other. They were relentless and calculating in the way they achieved getting the calf away from its mother and when they did, they were just as relentless and calculating with the calf. They pushed him up and out of the water and volleyed him back and forth. They bit at him and tore his skin. It was only after the calf had died, and was no longer fighting to get away, did they become bored and leave him. They were not hungry or they would have eaten him. They were bored, like a cat, who is the only domesticated animal that has never lost their wild instincts, toying and torturing their prey until it dies or can no longer move. Then leaving it or putting on the porch as a present for their owner.

Humans in the tank with killer whales, at this stage of the game, were not a normal occurrence. Many marine parks had begun “desensitizing” whales to objects that fell in, ultimately desensitizing them to a human falling in. It starts with feet dangling in the water working up to a person actually falling in. It is termed “water works” in which humans are actually in the water with the whales.

Robert Wright, the owner of Sealand, was unwilling to take that risk. Make no mistake about it, it was and remains a huge risk.

As mentioned, Tilikum and Nootka both had developed ulcers. Nootka was irritable and unpredictable. Eric Walters, a trainer that worked at Sealand witnessed a trainer being pulled into the water by Nootka. Lucky for the trainer, Walters quickly pulled her out. Nootka tried to bite Walters’ hand, twice! Once they brought a blind woman from the audience to pat Nootka’s tongue and Nootka bit her.

Walters left Sealand out of frustration in 1989 and contacted the Canadian Federation of the Humane Society so that the topic could be brought up at a conference on whales in captivity. He noted the dangerous situation which was not being addressed at Sealand due to the sloppy treatment and training of the whales.

As Zimmerann reported, “In closing, Walters wrote, ‘I feel that sooner or later someone is going to get seriously hurt.’”

On February 20, 1991, it happened. Keltie Bryne, a part time trainer and student studying marine biology, was cleaning up at the end of the day after the shows had finished. She slipped halfway into the pool and struggled to get out, but it was too late. The deprived, irritable, depressed and bored beyond belief, killer whales grabbed her. Bryne was a “live” plaything. In the dark sea water, it was difficult to see which whale was doing what to Bryne, but it’s safe to say that they all wanted her and whoever had her at any one time was barraged by the other two in an attempt to snatch her away. The trainers did everything they could, from throwing food in the water, giving recall commands and trying to get the life ring close enough for Bryne to grab it. The whales kept her away from it. They were not going to let her go until the game was over. And the game would go on until she no longer struggled. Bryne surfaced twice, screaming each time. She was under the water for ten minutes before she surfaced for the third time.

There was no scream.  She was dead.  Game over.

Even after Keltie Bryne had died it took the trainers two hours to recover the body. Bryne had drowned. She also had been beaten to a pulp, bruised and bloody from where the whales bit her, from head to toe. Nootka, Haida and Tilikum had stripped all her clothes off except for one boot.

As Zimmermann reported, “‘It was just a tragic accident,’ Al Bolz, Sealand’s manager, told reporters at the time. ‘I just can’t explain it.’”

If Bolz was telling the truth about not being able to explain what had happened, it begs the question, why was someone with no knowledge of orcas a manager running a marine park? If he was lying, management was turning a blind eye to the mistreatment of the whales and the potential danger that was bound to occur.

I’d put money on the latter.

As reported by Zimmermann: “Paul Spong, 70 (now 76), director of Orca Lab, in British Columbia – which studies orcas in the wild – did part-time research at Sealand before Tilikum arrived. Spong  was not so befuddled.

‘If you pen killer whales in a small steel tank, you are imposing an extreme level of sensory deprivation on them,’ he says. ‘Humans who are subjected to those same conditions become mentally disturbed.’”

Before reading Tim Zimmermann’s two articles, I knew nothing in depth about orcas, but I knew this, which I tweeted not long ago regarding Tilikum: “Poor Tilikum. He has been slowly, desperately going out of his mind.” The experts back me up on that.

If Tilikum, Haida and Nootka were charged with murder, and I was their lawyer, after hearing the expert witness’ testimony from Paul Spong, I would rest my case and ask that the charge of murder be placed on Sealand’s management.

What happened to the marine parks after this incident? Since very few people actually heard about this tragedy, marine parks, especially SeaWorld, continued to grow.

Even if Bryne’s death had been front page news, marine parks would continue to grow.

No murder charges were filed. Keltie Bryne’s death did have an effect on how things were done, but the true reason that this tragedy occurred was swept under the rug and marine parks did continue to grow and they had no intention of stopping. The easiest way to put a Band-aid on what happened to Keltie Bryne was to look at it as a tragic aberration and that’s what management, fans and most of the world did.

But there were a few that recognized the truth early on and got out. They tried to explain it, but no one would listen. Not yet.

After Keltie Bryne’s death Sealand’s owner, Robert Wright lost interest in the business. He contacted SeaWorld in 1991 and sold Haida, Nootka and Tilikum to them. Sealand closed in 1992.

SeaWorld was aware of what had happened, but Tilikum was a male of breeding age and they had their sights set on breeding killer whales in captivity.  SeaWorld was about to get a bonus that they didn’t know existed. Tilikum had already impregnated Haida and Nootka.

By this time, Don Goldsberry had become Sea World’s top supplier of aquatic animals.

Goldsberry is definitely one of the bad guys. Here is a little more about Goldsberry’s nefarious whale captures as reported by Zimmermann:

In August 1970, concerned about backlash, Goldsberry weighted some dead orcas down with anchors and dumped them in deep water. When they were dragged up on a Whidbey Island beach by a trawling fisherman, the public started to understand the sometimes brutal reality of the “orca gold rush.”

I would have not have used the word “sometimes” in front of “brutal reality.”

“The Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, prohibited the taking of marine mammals in U.S. waters, but SeaWorld continued to receive killer whale capture permits under an educational-display exclusion. In March 1976, Goldsberry pushed his luck and the limits of public opinion. He sighted a group of killer whales in the waters just off Olympia, Washington’s state capital. In full view of boaters – and just as the state legislature was meeting to consider creating a Puget Sound killer whale sanctuary – he used seal bombs and boats to chase six orcas into his nets at Budd Inlet. Ralph Munro, an aide to Governor Dan Evans, was out on a small sailboat that day and remembers the sight.

‘It was gruesome as they closed the net. You could hear the whales screaming,’ Munro recalls. ‘Goldsberry kept dropping explosives to drive the whales back into the net.’

The State of Washington filed a lawsuit, contending that Goldsberry and SeaWorld had violated permits that required humane capture, and as the heat and publicity built, SeaWorld agreed to release the Budd Inlet killer whales and to stop taking orcas from Washington waters. With the Puget Sound hunting grounds closing, Goldsberry flew around the world looking for other good capture sites. He settled on Iceland, where killer whales were plentiful. By October 1976, SeaWorld’s first Icelandic orca had been captured.”

When Godsberry and SeaWorld finally parted ways, SeaWorld gave him $100,000 to keep his mouth shut for two years about the business he did with them. Goldsberry gladly took it. When Zimmermann caught up with Goldsberry in 2010, here’s what Goldsburg, now 82, in failing health with an oxygen tube clipped to his nose, had to say, “‘We showed the world that killer whales were good animals and all of a sudden people said, hey, leave these animals alone,’ he says, sipping a mug of vodka and ice.

I had to make a living…..I would go into SeaWorld and say, I need a quarter of a million or a half-million dollars, and they put it in my suitcase,’ he says with a grin. ‘It was good, catching animals. It was exciting. I was the best in the world. There is no question about it.’’’

As I mentioned, not all of them regretted what they did. Not the best one, which is also the worst one.  And those like him are still around.

In 1991, SeaWorld bought Tilikum from Sealand. Tilikum is also from Icelandic waters. SeaWorld paid a reported sum of in the neighborhood of one million dollars to purchase Tilikum. However, SeaWorld was faced with a dilemma. Should they allow trainers in the water with him and teach him to perform with them?

SeaWorld was, and is, the Cadillac of marine parks. They certainly had mastered sophisticated training methods with plenty of variations in exercises and rewards. The goal was to avoid the whales being over stimulated by something new, as they had been with Keltie Bryne.

Tilikum had a hard act to follow. Shamu had been with trainers performing with her. Tilikum was also the best candidate for the job. But Tilikum had been involved with a death of a trainer in the pool with him. Thad Lacinak was vice president and corporate curator when Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld. He believes that had Tilikum been trained properly, Keltie Bryne’s tragic death would not have happened.

I disagree with Lacinak.Of course it would have happened and would happen again and again. If you are looking at the situation honestly, no one would agree with Lacinak’s opinion.  But anything is easy to say when you are looking through a massive corporate lens that magnifies the profits and diminishes the risks. It’s an old story in any business.

There are no guarantees when working with wild animals. That’s what they say.  Oddly enough, as much as these trainers and curators knew about whales, no one ever mentioned that it wasn’t because they were wild animals that made them unpredictable, it was because they were “captive” wild animals, and management, as well as trainers, had gone far beyond unpredictable. The whole scenario was predictable.

These gargantuan mammals were sad, angry and psychotic. They were slowly and desperately going out of their minds.

There’s only one reason why no one said anything about this, obviously, toxic and dangerous situation. If anyone had brought the subject up, they would be out of job and probably given money to keep their mouth shut.

These parks were making such massive money, one might say that anyone who bust the marine parks’ balloon, might have even been killed. And they were.

I believe, and I understand, that those working with these amazing animals truly cared for them. I also understand that the thrill of what they were doing was clouding their judgment regarding their own safety and regarding the fact that what they were doing was wrong, on so many levels. Not only were they putting themselves in danger, they were putting the public’s safety in danger as well.

There are those that did get out of the business.  Robert Wright closed down Sealand, but what he could have done, should have done, was rehabilitate the whales and other animals he had, to be returned to the wild. I also understand that money is important and Wright made a lot of money by selling those animals to SeaWorld.  I wonder if he regretted it looking back.  Somehow, I doubt it.

Corporate curator of SeaWorld, Lacinak, thought that Tilikum could be trained to perform with trainers in the water, but the fact that he had been involved in a death, management at SeaWorld thought better of it.

But not for long.

SeaWorld worked on Talikum performing in the water alone. It was still an exciting show. Just watching him come out of the water was crowd pleasing.

The other interesting fact that the public never knew about is that trainers had been getting beaten up by these unhappy whales since training them began, which is not surprising to me.

According to Zimmermann, “Since the 1960s, there have been more than 40 documented incidents at marine parks around the world. In 1971, the first Shamu went wild on a bikini-wearing secretary from SeaWorld, who was pulled screaming from the pool. For every incident the public was aware of (the ones that occurred in front of audiences or that put trainers in the hospital), there were many more behind the scenes. John Jett was a trainer at SeaWorld in the 1990s. He left to pursue a Ph.D. in natural-resource management in 1995, having grown disillusioned with the reality of keeping large, intelligent animals in captivity. He says that getting nicked, and sometimes hammered, was just part of the price of living the killer whale dream:

‘There were so many incidents. If you show fear or go home hurt, you might be put on the bench.’

SeaWorld says it gives trainers wide latitude and that, ‘The safety of our trainers and animals is paramount. Our trainers are empowered to alter any show or session plan if they have even the slightest concern.’”

Zimmermann goes on to say, “In 1987 alone, SeaWorld, San Diego experienced three incidents that hospitalized trainers with everything from fractured vertebrae to a smashed pelvis.

Jonathan Smith was one of them. In March, during a show, he was grabbed by two killer whales, who slammed him on the bottom of the 32-foot-deep pool five times before he finally escaped. ‘One more dunk for me and I would have gone out,’ he says. ‘They let me go. If they didn’t want to let me go, it would have been over.’ Smith was left with a ruptured kidney, a lacerated liver, and broken ribs. In response to these serious injuries, as well as other incidents, SeaWorld shook up its management team, pulled trainers from the water, and reassessed its safety protocols. After a number of changes (including making sure that only very experienced trainers worked with killer whales), trainers were allowed back in the pools.”

Unbelievable. I get angry every time I read this. My mind, at this point in the writing of this article was beginning to change about so many aspects of this carnage. I don’t believe I would have used the word carnage before researching and knowing what I now know. Let me make that cruel carnage.

What they call “safety procedures” are nonexistent. As Jonathan Smith said, “If they didn’t want to let me go, it would have been over.”

The whales understand that they are trapped and they understand that the only way they get fed is to placate these useless human beings, jump through hoops and get away with almost killing them as many times as they can.

At this point, I have to say, if you knew anything about killer whales, you would have to be crazy to get in the pool with them, especially if you were a trainer and had witnessed these violent injuries taking place. But you should have known something else.  You should have known what the hell was going on with these magnificent, intelligent animals and you should have done everything in your power to stop it.

There is no doubt in my mind that anyone that did continue to work with orcas in the pool was seriously flawed.

In any one of these events that a trainer did not get killed is only because of one aspect of the situation. It is an aspect that the best of the best, even the most brilliant trainer, could never have any control over. That aspect is, the situation will turn out only one way, the way the orcas want it to.

As Zimmerminn reported, “In 1999, Tilikum reminded the world that, at least when it came to humans, he could be a very dangerous animal. Early on the morning of July 6, Michael Dougherty, a physical trainer at SeaWorld, arrived at his office near the underwater viewing area of G pool.”

He glanced through the viewing glass and saw Tilikum staring back, with what appeared to be two human feet hanging down his side. There was a nude body draped across Tilikum’s back. It wasn’t moving.”

Daniel Dukes was the victim. Dukes was recently released from the Indian River County jail for theft. He either sneaked in after hours or stayed after the park had closed and decided to take a swim with Tilikum.”

Dukes, like Keltie Bryne before him, had become a brand new toy and Tilikum played with the toy the same way he, Haida and Nootka had played with Bryne. And as with Bryne, the game wasn’t over until Tilikum was bored and the toy had stopped struggling.

When Dougherty found Dukes rigor-mortise had already set in. Game over.

As Zimmermann reported, “The coroner determined the cause of death to be drowning. There were no cameras or witnesses, so it’s not known if Tilikum held him under or hypothermia did him in. But it’s clear Tilikum worked Dukes over. The coroner found abrasions and contusions – both premortem and postmortem – all over his head and body, and puncture wounds on his left leg. His testicles had been ripped open. Divers had to go to the bottom of the pool to retrieve little pieces of his body. SeaWorld ramped up its security, posting a 24-hour watch at Shamu Stadium. Keltie Byrne had not been an aberration.”

Nor would this be the last person killed by Tilikum. Also, unbelievable. Silly, egotistical trainers are expendable. There were plenty of those. And they just keep on coming.  It’s the whales they needed to keep around.

As reported by Zimmermann, “Despite the modifications, in 2006 another serious incident took place at SeaWorld San Diego, when head trainer Kenneth Peters was attacked by a killer whale called Kasatka. Kasatka grabbed Peters and repeatedly held him below the surface of the pool for up to a minute. He came close to drowning, and Kasatka joined Tilikum and a couple of other unruly SeaWorld orcas on the “no water work” blacklist.”

They were punished. SeaWorld won’t admit this, but read on.

As hard as it is to believe, Tilikum did not stay on that list. It is not that he should be on the list.  It is that there shouldn’t be a list. It is that he needed to be set free, as they all did.  The longer an orca is held captive the more difficult to set he or she free.  At some point it is not possible.  If Tilikum wasn’t there yet, he was very close.  It is just so unbelievable. An unbelievable nightmare that never seems to end.

Zimmermann reports, “Following the Peters incident, OSHA opened an investigation. After digging into the inner workings of SeaWorld’s killer whale shows, OSHA issued a report in 2007 that warned, ‘The contributing factors to the accident, in the simplest of terms, is that swimming with captive orcas is inherently dangerous and if someone hasn’t been killed already, it is only a matter of time before it does happen.’Sea World challenged the report as filled with errors, and OSHA agreed to withdraw it.”


Not only was this unbelievable, but had they forgotten that two people had already been killed, with Tilikum being one of the three orcas that killed Keltie Bryne in 1991 and Tilikum, on his own, also killed Daniel Dukes in 1999, and before Dukes there was Jonathan Smith that was hospitalized for a fractured vertebra, smashed pelvis and nearly drowned in 1987, which happened before Kasatka nearly drowned Kenneth Peters and left him with potentially life threatening injuries in 2006 along with the 40 or 50 other incidents that could have easily ended in deaths. Wasn’t any of this brought up?!!! Aren’t these events relevant?!!! Don’t these idiots understand what the hell is happening?!!!

Here is the answer: Enter Dawn Brancheau.

tilikum_Brancheau 07
Dawn Brancheau – Riders on the Storm | Ed Schipul | CC BY-SA 2.0

When I posted this picture my mind went to the bottom line . Everything became clear to me. None of it was unbelievable.  When you put the human hubris into the picture the unbelievable is clearly the inevitable.

As Zimmerman reported, “To work closely with a killer whale in a marine park requires experience, intuition, athleticism, and a whole lot of dramatic flair. Few people were better at it than top SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who, at 40, was blond, vivacious, and literally the poster girl for the marine park in Orlando, Florida, appearing on billboards around the city. She decided she wanted to work with killer whales at the age of nine, during a family trip to SeaWorld, and loved animals so much that as an adult she used to throw birthday parties for her two chocolate Labs.

…… Dawn Brancheau was working the Dine with Shamu show, featuring SeaWorld’s largest killer whale, a six-ton, 22-foot male known as “Tili” (short for Tilikum). Dine with Shamu takes place in a faux-rock-lined, 1.6-million-gallon pool that has an open-air café wrapped around one side. The families snacking on the lunch buffet that Wednesday were getting an eyeful. Brancheau bounced around on the deck of the pool, wearing a black-and-white wetsuit that echoed Tilikum’s coloration, as she worked him through a few of the many “behaviors” he had learned during his nearly 27 years as a marine-park denizen. The audience chuckled at the sight of one of the ocean’s top predators performing like a circus animal.”

Even circus animals deserve to be treated with more dignity than being “circus animals.” And I can’t be sure, but the fact that Zimmermann described Brancheau, as she “bounced” around the deck of the pool, as being a compliment. I would not use “bouncing around” a stage to describe an intelligent minded person. Nor do I believe that Zimmermann has any love lost on an industry in which he describes the audience as they, “chuckled at the sight of one of the ocean’s top predator performing like a circus animal.”

As Zimmermann reported, “The show ended around 1:30 P.M. As the audience started to file out, Brancheau fed Tilikum some herring (he eats up to 200 pounds a day), doused him a few times with a bucket (killer whales love all sorts of stimulation), and moved over to a shallow ledge built into the side of the pool. There, she laid down in a few inches of water, talking to him and stroking him, conducting what’s known as a “relationship session.” Tilikum floated inert in the pool alongside her, his nose almost touching her shoulder. Brancheau was smiling, her long ponytail flaring out behind her.

brancheau-with-orca_si - Dawn Brancheau with an orca December 2005 Photo Orlando Sentinel
Dawn Brancheau with an orca, December 2005 Photo: Orlando Sentinel

One level down, a group of families gathered before the huge glass windows of the underwater viewing area. A trainer shouted up that they were ready for Tilikum. That was Brancheau’s signal to instruct the orca to dive down and swim directly up to the glass for a custom photo op. It’s an awesome sight when six tons of Tili come gliding out of the blue. But that day, instead of waiting for his cue and behaving the way decades of daily training in captivity had conditioned him to, Tilikum did something unexpected. Jan Topoleski, 32, a trainer who was acting as a safety spotter for Brancheau, told investigators that Tilikum took Brancheau’s drifting hair into his mouth. Brancheau tried to pull it free, but Tilikum yanked her into the pool. In an instant, a classic tableau of a trainer bonding with a marine mammal became a life-threatening emergency.

Topoleski hit the pool’s siren. A ‘Signal 500’ was broadcast over the SeaWorld radio net, calling for a water rescue at G pool. Staff raced to the scene. ‘It was scary,’ Dutch tourist Susanne De Wit, 33, told investigators. ‘He was very wild.’ SeaWorld staff slapped the water surface, signaling Tilikum to leave her. The whale ignored the command. Trainers hurried to drop a weighted net into the water to try and separate Tilikum from Brancheau or herd him through two adjoining pools and into a small medical pool that had a lifting floor. There he could be raised out of the water and controlled.

Eyewitness accounts and the sheriff’s investigative report make it clear that Brancheau fought hard. She was a strong swimmer, a dedicated workout enthusiast who ran marathons. But she weighed just 123 pounds and was no match for a 12,000-pound killer whale. She managed to break free and swim toward the surface, but Tilikum slammed into her. She tried again. This time he grabbed her. Her water shoes came off and floated to the surface. ‘He started pushing her with his nose like she was a toy,’ said Paula Gillespie, one of the visitors at the underwater window. SeaWorld employees urgently ushered guests away.

‘Will she be OK?’ one asked.’

Tilikum kept dragging Brancheau through the water, shaking her violently. Finally – now holding Brancheau by her arm – he was guided onto the medical lift. The floor was quickly raised. Even now, Tilikum refused to give her up. Trainers were forced to pry his jaws open. When they pulled Brancheau free, part of her arm came off in his mouth. Brancheau’s colleagues carried her to the pool deck and cut her wetsuit away. She had no heartbeat. The paramedics went to work, attaching a defibrillator, but it was obvious she was gone. A sheet was pulled over her body.

Tilikum, who’d been involved in two marine-park deaths in the past, had killed her.

Every safety protocol that we have failed,’ SeaWorld director of animal training, Kelly Flaherty Clark, told me a month after the incident, her voice still tight with emotion. ‘That’s why we don’t have our friend anymore, and that’s why we are taking a step back.’

Dawn Brancheau’s death was a tragedy for her family and for SeaWorld, which had never lost a trainer before. Letters of sympathy poured in, many with pictures of Brancheau and the grinning kids she’d spent time with after shows. The incident was a shock to Americans accustomed to thinking of Shamu as a lovable national icon, with an extensive line of plush dolls and a relentlessly cheerful Twitter account. The news media went into full frenzy, chasing Brancheau’s family and flying helicopters over Shamu Stadium. Congress piled on with a call for hearings on marine mammals at entertainment parks, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened an investigation. It was the most intense national killer whale mania since 1996, when Keiko, the star of Free Willy, was rescued from a shabby marine park in Mexico City in an attempt to return him to the sea. Killer whales have never been known to attack a human in the wild, and everyone wanted to know one thing: Why did Dawn Brancheau die?”

Here is my answer to the question,” Why did Dawn Brancheau die?”

I believe that Zimmermann knows the answer to that question. He has dropped several clues along the way, which have not been missed.  There’s one just above when he writes, “The incident was a shock to Americans accustomed to thinking of Shamu as a lovable national icon, with an extensive line of plush dolls and a relentlessly cheerful Twitter account.

You rarely will see the word “cheerful” described as being “relentless” However, I couldn’t have said it better myself. It was one of the biggest, hoodwinking deceptions to ever take place and the whole world believed it.

I believed it. I was brought to tears of joy seeing these magnificent animals do these amazing tricks with these oh so very lucky individuals.

It was “relentlessly cheerful” because those animals were anything but cheerful. It was relentlessly cheerful because management could not let even a flickering thought of the truth enter the public’s mind.

I feel like such a fool that I, animal lover, so much so that I am now a vegan, could be so easily deceived.

From the moment I heard about Brancheau’s death I felt nothing for her. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I almost felt guilty about the frigid attitude I had toward her death. I also knew, even though I couldn’t prove it at the time, I knew that even after killing three people, Tilikum was innocent.

I feel very sorry for Keltie Bryne’s death. She was the first. I believe she was truly innocent because she was not totally aware of the potential danger she was in. She did not go consciously into the water with killer whales. She slipped. And she died a horrible death. The whales were innocent and so was she.

Daniel Dukes was delusional.  I don’t believe, as I do with Bryne, that he understood the danger he was putting himself in.  With the fallacious facade that SeaWorld had painted of killer whales as over-sized puppies, why would he have been afraid. Tilikum was innocent and so was Dukes.

That is not the case with all of those trainers who came on board long after it was well known what these whales were going through. I feel nothing for those that were almost killed and I now know why I felt, and feel even more viscerally, nothing for Brancheau’s death.

It is wonderful and sweet that Brancheau gave her chocolate labs birthday parties. However, chocolate labs are about as close to orcas as chocolate candy. Brancheau certainly had the requirements of experience, athleticism and a whole lot of flair, but intuition? That she did not possess. Ego is what replaced intuition, if she ever possessed it at all. Common sense might have saved her as well, of which she demonstrated none.

I do not for one minute blame Tilikum for what he did to Dawn Brancheau. I blame Brancheau for what she did to Tilikum.

The best thing she could have done for Tilikum and the rest of the whales that were in captivity, was to speak up for the fact that none of them belonged in tanks and none of them should have been performing tricks for a handful of fish. But that was what made Brancheau a star and she would not give that give that up. Her love for orcas was that they made her famous. I will agree that she probably did not think in these terms regarding her life, consciously.  The truth is that she was too caught up in her success and fame to employ any common sense or be able to see clearly what was going on.  Or perhaps, she simply ignored it. Either way, she is the guilty

Was Dawn Brancheau completely ignorant of the misery and historically cruel treatment that these orcas had to endure, ignorant to the fact that she was as guilty as Don Goldsberry, if she even knew who he was? If she wasn’t ignorant of the history of the Tilikum, then her crime is even more egregious.

There is just no excuse for her actions.

Just as Sea World’s management had been caught up in the billion dollar industry, their common sense and humane dignity, if they had any to begin with, was blinded by profits.

Brancheau was the star of the show, she was the one that should have protected those she worked with from further injury.

She should have spoken up about the injuries that occurred. However, had she done that she would have to admit to herself that no one, not even her, was safe being in a pool with these animals. She would have understood why no one was safe in a pool with these animals.  She would have known, certainly should have known, it was because these animals were suffering and miserable.

I have not read any reports about Brancheau being worked over by the whales, but it was a common occurrence, so it probably did happen to her. It may seem far-fetched at first, but Brancheau resembles those that are battered wives. A woman who has been beaten and bloodied so many times, always with an apology afterward, only to be bloodied and beaten again, only worse. Each time it is worse. The number of women, at this minute in an abusive situation that think they are the one that can change their abusive spouse, are in the hundreds of thousands. This is a common human trait. It’s called “denial.”  And all of the women that are in denial regarding their abusive relationship are walking into being seriously injured or murdered.  The statistics proves this out.

You are not the miracle that is going to change him or her. And if you think you are, your ego is bigger than your brain.

Although, Dawn Brancheau thought she was, she was not the miracle that could change Tilikum. You cannot bring change to something you do not understand.

There is no miracle. There is only the truth, that after three deaths, hundreds of near deaths, suffering of these magnificent animals, paying people to keep their mouths shut and probably paying off huge lawsuits, this entire fiasco is, finally, coming to an end.

“Pride rideth before a fall,” is a quote from the Bible, and it applies to this case perfectly.

Brancheau might have loved Tilikum, but she loved herself more. So much so that she did not understand the history of the industry she was working in. And more disturbing is that she ignored the history of Tilikum. Most egregiously, she thought that Tilikum loved her.  She was wrong.

Dead wrong.

She was a toy to him, a toy that was his meal ticket and nothing more. All the trainers are nothing more to these imprisoned, intelligent beings, than a hated meal ticket, just as prison wardens are hated, but must be placated if, as a prisoner, you want to be fed.

In another story that I read on line it reported, “The stress of captivity also causes Tilikum to exhibit aggression toward humans, which has cost two more lives—those of Daniel P. Dukes in 1999 and Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Tilikum scalped and dismembered Dawn as well as breaking bones throughout her body before drowning her.”

Tilikum did not love Dawn Brancheau.

In the same story it states, “Dawn Brancheau was one of SeaWorld’s star performers. She was cautious and always abided by the park’s “safety” guidelines when she was around the orcas. When her death was announced, former and current trainers were astonished that she had been the one killed.”

I find that statement ironic and very telling. They still refuse to understand. Of course, she was the one to be killed. She was the one that made a fool out of Tilikum each and every day she performed with him. The article also shows Tilikum in the holding tank that he was put in for punishment after her death.


As the story reported, “In this aerial view of SeaWorld, you can see how little room the orcas have. Inside the circle is Tilikum, whose nose and tail appear to be able to touch both sides of the tank at the same time.”

Tilikum was being punished, as mentioned earlier.

“Following Dawn’s tragic death, Tilikum was kept in a tiny enclosure that limited his ability to swim, communicate with other orcas, and interact with humans even further. He was reported to have been floating listlessly in the water for hours at a time, a behavior never seen in wild orcas.”

Even after her death Brancheau continued to torture Tilikum as he lingered in a holding tank for a year in isolation as punishment for killing her.

“After a year in isolation, Tilikum was returned to performing. SeaWorld is appealing its citation for violating a federal workplace safety law meant to protect workers from recognized life-threatening hazards and asking that the government allow humans to swim with orcas despite the risk.”

I’ve gone from screaming, “Unbelievable!!!!!,” to angrily accepting it’s absurd believably.

I will thank Dawn Branchaeu for one thing and one thing only, her death has stopped more killer whales from be incarcerated and living a life of torture. And no more, according to Sea World, will be bred in captivity.

I believe I answered the question as to why Dawn Branchaeu was killed. She did not die. She was intentionally murdered by Tilikum and he had every right to do it.

Before reading the astounding article, “Killer in the Pool,” written by Tim Zimmermann for Outside magazine, I knew that Tilkum was aware of what he was doing when he took the lives of three people. I also knew that he was slowly and disturbingly going out of his mind. I also realized we have reached the point that keeping these animals captive is no longer acceptable on so many levels. It never should have been acceptable, just as slavery should have never been acceptable. But humans can always find a way to justify anything. After reading the article it confirmed that I was right on all counts, as I’m sure so many individuals thought as I did.

You must read Zimmermann’s articles to fully understand why this cruel practice must stop. And it is coming to a halt. The history of this industry, and the personalities of those that started it, will astonish and anger you. If you say you love animals you will break down and cry throughout the article.

If you read nothing more than the last three paragraphs that Zimmermann wrote in the article entitled, “Killer in the Pool,” it will bring everything that has transpired in the last 56 years in the marine park industry into crystal clear focus. Those three paragraphs will bring the whole story of capturing orcas to a crescendo that is as deep in meaning as the ocean’s depth in the Mariana Trench. It will make you weep for Tilikum and all others that have suffered, and are suffering, as he has. Here are the last three paragraphs of Zimmermann’s amazing article:

“Whether or not Tilikum ever performs again, he’s still SeaWorld’s most prolific breeder. He’s sired 13 (21 now), viable calves, with two more on the way this summer. Most likely, he will finish his life as he’s mostly lived it, in a marine park. He’s nearly 30 (now 36), and only one male in captivity, who is still alive, is known to have lived past that age.

Three thousand miles away, Balcomb often sees a pod of killer whales easing their way through the wilderness of water that is his Haro Strait backyard. They swim with purpose and coordination, huffing spumes of mist into the salty, spruce-scented air. The group is known as L Pod, and one, a big male designated L78, was born just a few years after Tilikum. Balcomb has been tracking L78 for more than two decades. He knows that his mother – born around 1960 – and his brother are always close by. He knows that L78 ranges as far south as California with his pod, in search of salmon.

Milan Boers | CC by 2.0 Tilikum has a collapsed dorsal fin, a sign of an unhealthy and stressed orca. Many orcas in captivity (but few in the wild) have collapsed fins.

L78’s dorsal fin stands proud and straight as a knife, with none of Tilikum’s marine-park flop. He hunts when he’s hungry, mates with the females who offer themselves, and whistles to the extended family that is always nearby. He cares nothing for humans and is all but oblivious to their presence when they paddle out in kayaks to marvel as he swims. He knows nothing of the life of Tilikum or the artificial world humans have manufactured for him. But Tilikum, before 26,(now 34), years in marine parks, once knew L78’s life, once knew what it was like to swim the ocean alongside his mother and family. And perhaps, just perhaps, that also helps explain why Dawn Brancheau died.”

A wild orca, Kachemak Bay, Alaska Photo: Richard Johnson
This is the life that Tilikum, and all those captured, could have and should have, lived.

I cannot keep from crying every time I read those beautifully crafted last three paragraphs.  I think Tim Zimmermann and I are on the same page, a page that ends one of the saddest true stories ever to told.

The link to Tim Zimmermann’s article, “The Killer in the Pool”


Tilikum is Dead

After reading Zimmermann’s article, written in 2010, I had to find out where Tilikum is now. Zimmermann has been dreading the day that he would write about the death of this majestic icon that has lived such a tortured life. He is still at Sea World, but he is dying. I can’t stop crying every time I realize that he is dying.

In Zimmermann’s most recent article “Tilikum, Sea World’s Killer Orca, is Dying,” he states, “His health is deteriorating due to a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection.”

It is especially sad to see an animal that has suffered all his life pass away, never again to go back to his home and his family. But Tilikum will not be forgotten, nor the lives that he took in his unending loneliness and unrest.

The harsh reality is that it was not him that took those lives. It was the greed and exploitation of a wild animal’s life by those that knew what was happening and refused to admit it.

It was the hubris of humans that took Tilikum’s life and the lives of all orcas that have been forced to live in captivity.

Like so many others, I paid the admission to see him and other animals like him. However, the last time I went to a marine park I was in the Bahamas at the Atlantis theme park. It was about 10 years ago. It was the second time that I “swam with the dolphins.” The trainer told us that these dolphins were actually swept out to sea by a hurricane and had to be rounded up and brought back. As he introduced the dolphins he told us that one of the females was a bit moody, which made me a bit uneasy.

We were given hand held propellers that would propel us down and around under water. I’m a pretty good swimmer and I asked if I could go without the propeller. The trainer said that would be fine. As I was swimming under water I felt my hand hit something hard and sharp behind me and over my head as I swam. When I turned around I could see it that I hit the tooth of a dolphin, whose mouth was agape as wide as she could open it and she was right above me. I say “she” because I was pretty sure it was the “moody” female.

I wasn’t frightened, but it was troubling.  I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought maybe she thought I was one of the trainers that didn’t use the propellers and maybe she thought I was going to throw her fish. Ultimately, I decided to tell the trainer. I just didn’t want to see anyone get hurt.

At the end of the show they brought into the enclosure what is known as a wholphin or wolphin. A wholphin is an extremely rare hybrid born by mating a female bottle nose dolphin with a false killer whale. A false killer whale shares the same characteristics as a killer whale, but does not belong to the same genus. The theme park said that the mating was not planned, but who knows.

This was a female and she was not as big as a killer whale, but about twice the size of a dolphin. We were to lie on our stomachs on a paddle board with our legs straight and off the back of the paddle board with our toes pointed. The wholphin was to come behind us and push us through the water by placing her nose in the underside arches of our feet.

Having been around horses all my life, I understood the power of a large animal and I knew that I was putting myself in a vulnerable position. I wasn’t going to back out because I wanted to experience something that not everyone has the chance to experience. But I also knew I would feel better after it was over. The thought of Tilikum consciously killing three people did cross my mind. I thought about the possibility of that day being the day that the wholphin was in a bad mood and of her opening her mouth and chomping down on my legs.

The wholphin did what she was trained to do. I felt her come in contact with my feet and when she accelerated, I realized that I really did not understand just how powerful these animals are. As I was heading toward the people that were against the wall of the pool waiting their turn, she pushed me farther than she should of and I smashed into a few people. No one was hurt, but I was really was glad it was over.

All in all, it was not a good experience. I loved being with the animals, but I realized that these were highly intelligent wild animals that could consciously kill you. I realized that they had every right to do that. This was not what they were meant to do. If I my legs were injured that day, I would not have blamed it on the wholphin.

That was it for me. It was the second and the last time I would ever do that. It just felt wrong. I remembered Dawn Brancheau’s death and the two before her. After riding show jumpers for ten years and galloping race horses for 15 years, I’m not exactly faint of heart, but I knew that whole situation was ripe for someone else getting hurt. I also felt that there was a good chance that people had already been hurt and were probably paid a lot of money not to say anything. I now have proof of that, and I now know that very few people knew about the first two deaths associated with Tilikum. I remember hearing about the second death and with that news I learned about the first. However, at that time I didn’t really know that much about killer whales in captivity. I was in awe of how they performed and how beautiful they are. When after three deaths associated with Tilikum and there was no mention of euthanizing him, I was beginning to understand that it was not his fault, which pushed me to learn the truth.

I also knew that no matter what the conditions of the three deaths were, Tilikum was much too valuable to euthanize. Of course he is. He has sired 21 calves, of which 10 are still alive. The money that the park makes, minus  the cost of having to catch or purchase one and train a wild orca, is substantial. I am still researching to find where the ten offspring of Tilikum are. I found out through Wikipedia that, Kohana, one of Tilikum’s daughters was born at Sea World, San Diego in on May 3, 2002. She was conceived by artificial insemination. Her mother is Takara. On April 25, 2004, Kahana, and her mother, were moved to Sea World, Orlando. On February 13, 2006, Kahana was moved, with three other orcas, to Loro Parque in Spain. Evidently, SeaWorld still owns Kahana.

This is the very scenario, cruelly separating family members, that causes these highly family oriented intelligent animals to suffer mentally, go insane and kill people.

The more I learn the more I dislike people.

Even if they no longer have trainers working in the water with them for safety reasons, what about what it is doing to the whales being held captive? Even if they are born in captivity, it is still wrong.  It confuses them.  Instinctively, they feel something is wrong.

Here are some statistics taken from WDC about Whales and Dolphins

At least 150 orcas have been taken into captivity from the wild since 1961 (including Pascuala and Morgan). 

  • 127 of these orcas are now dead.
  • In the wild, male orcas live to an average of 30 years (maximum 50-60 years) and 46 years for females (maximum 80-90 years).
  • At least 163 orcas have died in captivity, not including 30 miscarried or still-born calves.
  • SeaWorld holds 23 orcas in its three parks in the United States and owns (at least) a further four at Loro Parque in Spain (ownership of Adan and Morgan not verified). At least forty-five orcas have died at SeaWorld.
  • One of the most infamous capture incidents saw over 80 whales from the Southern Resident population of orcas in Washington State rounded-up at Penn Cove in 1970. Seven were taken into captivity while as many as five whales died. Today this population is recognised as endangered. Only one captured whale, Lolita, is still alive, held at Miami Seaquarium.
  • The longest surviving orca in captivity is Corky, captured in 1969 from the Northern Resident population that inhabits the waters around Vancouver Island, Canada. She is held at SeaWorld in San Diego. None of her seven offspring in captivity have survived. Her family (known as the A5 pod) continue to thrive in the wild, including Corky’s brother, Fife, who you can adopt to help support our work.
  • At least 13 orcas have been taken from the wild into captivity since 2002, most recently in Russia.

Unfortunately, after all we know, the lives that have and are still suffering and the lives that have been lost, there are those that still do not understand. Or they understand, but just don’t care.

Case in point: Shockingly, Eric Bolling, a popular Fox News Channel host, ended his show a few weeks ago, by saying that it was a sad day in America when meddling animal rights groups can cause an American tradition like Sea World to end their killer whale shows and halt their breeding program. He also said and, “So they do a few tricks and they get a handful of fish. How terrible can it be?”

Wow. There’s a line from the movie Shawshank Redemption, where Tim Robins’ character, the wrongfully imprisoned inmate, says to the evil warden, “How can you be so obtuse?”

I would ask Mr. Bolling the same question.

Bolling is also on the Fox Business Network and is a financial analyst. You would think he would know that it is not meddling animal rights activists that caused this cruel and unusual punishment of these majestic animals to end. It is the market that caused this. Tragically, Sea World would have been happy to keep doing business as usual, as they did after the first death and the second death associated with Tilikum. It was after Dawn Brancheau was killed and the movie Blackfish was made, that the world found out everything, and people stopped paying to see what SeaWorld was selling. Their revenue dropped 84%.

“How can you be so obtuse?”

I recently saw the SeaWorld commercial on television announcing that they are putting an end to their orca breeding program. It is touching and I will admit that when I saw the family of whales, all of which, or most of which, had been born in captivity, I was saddened that something that looked so beautiful and made me, and millions of people, overjoyed at just the sight of them, would not be there in the future.

But it was not the true picture that we were seeing.

Marine parks will survive and they have done, and will continue to do good for aquatic animals. However, they were forced to change what much of their entire revenue was built on.

That is the right thing to do. But don’t think for a minute that management had an epiphany. What they had, was no choice.

I also want to mention that riding horses as I did, showing show jumpers and exercising race horses, I have had some pretty severe injuries. I’ve broken several bones, had a pretty bad concussion and have a little scar on my back where the sweetest  filly in the world reached around and nipped me as I tightened her girth and I’ve hit the ground hundreds of times. You might say, “This is just part of riding horses. If you ride horses you are bond to get injured.” Yes, that’s true.

However, if you are trying to compare working with and training horses with working with and training killer whales, there is no comparison.

Almost all injuries that occur with horses are operator errors, meaning that when you fall off, it’s usually the riders’ fault. Not all the time. sometimes accidents happen and you can get seriously hurt. But I know of no time when a horse consciously tried to kill a person. They are domesticated animals, which are not even close to what a wild animal is. Even bucking broncos don’t try to kill the cowboy.  They are just doing what they are trained to do, with the help of a cinch that is pulled tight around their flanks. (I don’t like  rodeos. In fact I hate them.)  I’m sure many of bucking broncos are gentle as lambs if they’re not in the arena. Now, bulls are different. But that’s another story.

So, if you ride horses, you do so at your own risk and lots of people do it every day, all their lives and they’re just fine. We fall off and we get back on.

If you get in a tank with a killer whale, you are an idiot or suicidal or have an ego that’s the size of Texas.  All of which will get you killed.

That’s why, in the not too distant future, there will no longer be killer whales in tanks.

And that’s the way it should be.

The link to Tim Zimmermann’s article, “The Killer in the Pool”

The link to Tim Zimmermann’s latest article, “Tilikum, Sea World’s Killer Whale, is Dying:

Stay tuned for my new book, Vigil the Hound, a true story of a fox hound that does not want to hunt foxes.

Vintage engraving from 1825 of the Foxhound Trojan

I welcome your comments.
Tere Albanese