SeaWorld Killer Whale Lives Up to its Name; Attacks and Kills Trainer
Living in captivity is not all it’s cracked up to be. Imagine: bright flashing lights, being confined to the same small tank day in and day out, and having to perform ridiculous tricks for the entertainment of others. All you get out of it is some stinking fish. Yeah, I’d feel like I got a pretty raw deal, too.
Tilikum the killer whale seems to feel the same way.
Yesterday, Tilikum attacked and killed a trainer at the Orlando-based SeaWorld. The attack happened right in front of the audience and the trainer was no beginner. Dawn Brancheau, a leading trainer at the park, had worked at the park for 12 years, 10 of which involved working with the whales. If you’ve been to the Orlando SeaWorld in recent years, you most likely saw the whale in action. Tilikum would be the orca that comes out when the trainers and audience chant “Shamu” during the park’s “Believe” show.
Many spectators were asked what happened; most gave varying accounts. One audience member claimed the whale “took off really fast in the tank, and then he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist, and started thrashing around, and one of her shoes flew off”. Others claim Brancheau was grabbed by the upper arm and tossed around while the whale swam around the tank. One thing is for sure: that will be Brancheau’s final performance.
Unfortunately, it may also be Tilikum’s, as well. This is not the first time Tilikum killed people. In 1999, another SeaWorld incident happened, when a man went past security and either fell, jumped, or was pulled into the water. He was later found draped over Tilikum’s body. There was also an incident at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, where Tilikum was one of 3 whales suspected of killing a trainer in 1991.
However, don’t pin all the blame on Tilikum. There are other accounts of captive killer whales attacking people. One whale attempted to hit and bite a trainer at the San Antonio SeaWorld in 2004. Another incident occurred at the San Diego SeaWorld in 2006, when a whale bit and held a trainer underwater during a show. Both of these trainers survived their attacks; however, one trainer at a Spanish zoo was not so lucky—they drowned last December.
According to Steve McCulloch, founder and program manager of the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program at Harbor Branch/Florida Atlantic University:
“It could be play behavior. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. These are very large, powerful marine mammals. They exhibit this type of behavior in the wild. Nobody cares more about the animal than the trainer. It’s just hard to fathom that this has happened.”
It really makes you wonder why all these whales are attacking their trainers. Are they being mistreated? Are they sick of being captive? Maybe they’re tired of all the tricks they’re forced to do. I can’t help but question the methods involved with these animals. Although the killer whale (or orca) is actually a member of the dolphin family, it still has a taste for blood. They are known as the wolves of the sea. They hunt in packs (or pods) and to watch them kill is not a pretty sight.
Knowing these things about the orcas (and assuming the people that work with them know, too), you would think this would be anticipated. They are large, carnivorous mammals and there is always that wild instinct in them, no matter how long they may live in captivity. It seems only natural that they would need to unleash that wild side at some point. Needless to say, anytime a person willingly puts themselves into a tank with one of these animals, they are immediately putting themselves at risk. Maybe the whale will swim on by and give you a playful nudge today; but next week that same whale might see you as a tasty snack. If you want to put yourself in that position, I won’t stop you. I think it’s great to want to work with animals (though I’d rather see those animals in the wild than confined behind tanks or bars).
However, as far as the incident goes with Tilikum, put yourself in the whale’s position. If you were forced to live in captivity and perform tricks, how would you feel?
By Heidi Marshall