A documentary titled Blackfish aired recently on CNN. It told the story of Tillikum, a 12,500-pound bull orca owned by SeaWorld, and the death of Dawn Brancheau. Branchaeu was a lead trainer at SeaWorld Orlando when Tillikumkilled her in front of an audience of SeaWorld guests and trainers.
SeaWorld blamed the experienced trainer for her death, with its spokesperson saying that she wasn’t following protocol and her unfortunate mistakes resulted in her death. The documentary includes interviews with numerous former employees, many of whom worked closely with Branchaeu, insisting that she was a stickler for the rules and always certain to exercise caution when working directly with the animals, especially Tillikum.
There are a lot of things wrong with the situation involving Tillikum and SeaWorld. The first one being the fact that he’s a 12,500-pound killer whale and he’s forced to live in a glorified swimming pool and expected to remain obedient to trainers. It’s a shame that people had to die in order for the unsafe environment perpetuated by SeaWorld to be noticed.
Taking animals out of their natural habitats and imprisoning them to perform tasks and to entertain people is inhumane and barbaric. I’ll admit as a child I loved the idea of SeaWorld; the whales scared me, but I loved the penguins. Sadly, it wasn’t until watching Blackfish that I became aware of the unsafe and unfortunate situations that these captive animals are forced into and the dangers surrounding their captivity.
Tillikum has killed someone before. Of course, SeaWorld does not advertise this, but Tillikum used to be owned by Sealand of the Pacific until he took the life of a young trainer in 1991.
Keltie Lee Byrne had fallen into the pool Tillikum shared with two other whales when he killed her. Sealand closed down shortly after, and Tillikum was sold to SeaWorld.
Tillikum, then the largest bull orca in captivity, was a commodity that SeaWorld was eager to get their hands on, subsequently using him for breeding. Currently, 54 percent of SeaWorld orcas share Tillikum’s genes. Tillikum is also held responsible for the death of Daniel P. Dukes in 1999, a man who had reportedly fallen into the pool after park hours and was found dead upon opening the next day. The circumstances surrounding his death are unclear, but he was found inside of Tillikum’s pool and his death was reportedly a product of “horseplay."
After Brancheau’s death in 2010, Tillikum was placed in a solitary confinement of sorts; he was unable to swim freely and his contact with trainers and other orcas was minimal. Today, Tillikum is back to performing.
SeaWorld needs to be sent a clear message that the treatment of their animals is not acceptable and neither is blaming their trainers for confrontations that were not their fault. Regardless of what Brancheau could have done differently, the simple explanation of her death is that she was working closely with a known killer and numerous potentially hazardous animals. When Steve Irwin was killed, nobody was to blame but himself. He knowingly put his life at risk, as did Brancheau and as does all SeaWorld trainers.
You can’t expect to work with dangerous creatures and never witness or be a victim to an incident. Tillikum should not be treated as a commodity. He is a living, breathing creature and deserves an organic habitat and environment of his own. Expecting any living being to not become aggravated and aggressive when it is held captive is unreasonable. The deaths of Tillikum’s victims could have easily been prevented if SeaWorld and similar companies gained some humanity and let these animals be free to roam the open oceans.
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