I was back and forth on whether I wanted to write about this or not because social media is already exploding about it but no amount of respect is great enough for Tilikum’s sad story. What an incredible shame that humans feel the right to take what is not ours and exploit it in a way that is so unbelievable.
The beautiful orca, Tilikum, is finally free and many people are feeling a great sadness. Yes, he was taken from the world too soon at the young age of 36 but I am truly feeling a sense of relief for him. He is free from the tanks and suffering. This highly intelligent animal knew exactly what humans were doing to him since the day of his capture.
At 3 years old Tili was ripped from his mother as she cried out in agony searching for her calf in the beautiful waters off the coast of Iceland and he was placed in a cement holding tank alone for nearly a year in which swimming in small circles was his life when in reality he was used to swimming hundred of miles every day with his relatives. Sadly, his name in Chinook means “family” or “tribe”. He was then transferred to Sealand in Canada where he was placed in a 100′ x 50′ pool that was merely a shocking 35′ deep. Tili soon developed stomach ulcers from his stressful job of slavery. Forced to perform every hour for 8 hours a day 7 days a week. When not performing, he was trapped in a pen with 2 female orcas that he was seriously incompatible with. The females tortured and “raked” his entire body with their teeth.
In 1991 came the first of 3 deaths involving Tilikum. Keltie Byrne fell into the small tank with all 3 orcas and was pulled to the bottom by Tilikum, tossed around by the three orcas and eventually drowned. After the incident he was put into a “medical” pool that was 23′ x 31′ and only 12′ deep. At this time Tilikum was approximately 20′ long. He was put up for sale and quickly purchased by SeaWorld with seemingly no regard for the incident. Tilikum would spend the rest of his life in a glass prison at the facility which contained no where near the appropriate amount of space he needed.
At SeaWorld his life of slavery continued as he was forced to perform while consuming an unnatural diet and living a solitary, lonely life. Orcas are social animals that spend their entire lives with their pod. Solidarity causes immense stress, anxiety and of course, unnatural behavior. Tilikum (and other orcas in captivity) began chewing the concrete walls and the gates of the enclosure until his teeth were worn down to small nubs. His dorsal fin began to fall to the side due to depression and stress. He, as well as other orcas, began to exhibit aggression on several instances (which of course have been undocumented by SeaWorld).
Then there are the remaining 2 deaths involving Tilikum. Daniel Dukes in 1999 (bypassed security and swam in the sleeping tank where Tilikum dramatically dismembered him and was found in the morning parading his body across his back) and Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Dawn’s death was extremely tragic. During a show, Tili scalped her, dragged her to the bottom on his pen, and pinned her there until she drowned. After Dawn’s death, SeaWorld opted to condemn Tili to a tiny pen in which he could barely swim and could not communicate with other orcas. He was reported to be floating listlessly for hours, a characteristic never documented by orcas in the wild. One whole year he would spend in isolation as punishment. Interestingly, SeaWorld appealed their citation for placing employees in unsafe environments and wanted to continue to allow the staff in the tanks with the proven aggressive animals.
There have been exactly ZERO documented incidents of orca aggression toward humans in the wild.
First of all, these animals should not be captured. Secondly, when we learned that captivity can cause aggressive behavior, we should have stopped willingly jumping into the tanks with the massive wild animals rather than sweeping it under the rug and continuing to keep and even breed animals in captivity SOLELY for money. SeaWorld is to blame for the death of Dawn Brancheau.
SeaWorld is trying to say that Tilikum was reaching old age. Get a grip. The oldest known orca in the wild died at the age of 105. He was young but captivity killed him. Killed his spirit a long time ago and then his body. It is a proven fact. His story is tragic from beginning to end. Only 3 years of his 36 were spent where he was meant to be, traversing the oceans hundreds of miles each day with his family and free.
SeaWorld sales have dropped drastically since the award winning film BLACKFISH and hopefully will continue to decline over time as people become more aware of their ridiculous lack of ethics, morals and compassion for marine life. But in the end, they are still trying to remain in business, lying to the public, putting on shows, and looking the other way when bad things happen. The amount of information they have moved mountains to hide from the public is truly shocking but these days nothing surprises us about SeaWorld. Last year they released a statement that they were going to stop breeding orcas in captivity. Tilikum sired 21 calves of which only 10 are still alive. They also say they are putting an end to the theatrical orca shows altogether. I’ll believe it when I see (or don’t see) it.
Tili, on behalf of humankind, I am sorry. I am sorry that greed, ignorance & selfishness ultimately took your life. I will forever picture you like this…