The Tale of Tilikum

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Tilikum is one of the many orcas that’ve been caught in the wild, which has led them to living in captivity for the rest of their lives. Tilikum’s sad and lonely story shows how most captive orcas spend their lives, except his story is a little more extreme. He is the largest orca in captivity, weighing a whopping 12,500 lbs and is over 22 feet in length. In November of 1983, amidst in the Icelandic ocean, Tilikum was taken away from his family and home. During this moment, he experienced the terrifying capture techniques. During this time period, the capture techniques utilized were purse-seine nets, underwater explosives, aircrafts, and high-speed boats. This definitely scared Tilikum and most likely traumatized him for the rest of his life. These techniques were used in the state of Washington until orca capturing became regulated in the U.S., and was outlawed in Washington State. Tilikum was only 2 years old and 13 feet long when he was snatched from his family and home, which he won’t get the chance to see again. He was just a baby orca, afraid and scared, with no clue what to expect.

He was first purchased by the low-grade Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, Canada. When he got there he was placed in a 100-foot-by-50-foot pool that was 35 feet deep, which he had to call “home.” There were 2 female orcas at Sealand, Haida and Nootka, who were dominant and very aggressive towards Tilikum. He was ranked at the bottom of the social spectrum to the females, and was attacked quite often. The females would painfully attack him with biting and raking their teeth against the entire length of his body. As if being attacked constantly wasn’t enough, his trainers would deprive him of food if he didn’t perform a task correctly, as a “training technique.” He had to perform every hour, on the hour, 8 times a day, 7 days a week. At the end of the parks day, they would cram the 3 orcas into a small metal-sided module for more than 14 hours. With all the stress, exhaustion, and frustration of being confined and forced to perform, Tilikum developed stomach ulcers. On February 21st, 1991 Tilikum first acted on his frustration, resulting in the death of a trainer. Keltie Byrne (a trainer at Sealand) fell into the pool with the three orcas, and never made it back up alive. As she fell in, Tilikum lashed out his aggression onto Keltie by dragging her to the bottom of the pool. She was then tossed around by the 3 orcas, and her body was not able to be recovered for the next two hours. After this incident, Sealand decided to close its run-down doors for good, and put the 3 orcas (including Tilikum) on the market to be purchased.

Tilikum was purchased by SeaWorld for its breeding program, and has been there for the past 24 years. This means he’s trained for people to collect his sperm to add on to SeaWorld’s number of orcas. He is forced to ejaculate in an un-natural way while trainers collect his semen. He gets rewarded with treats when he does so. People have called him the “chief of SeaWorld’s sperm bank” which makes sense because 54% of SeaWorld’s orcas have his genes. Tilikum has collapsed dorsal fins, which most captive orcas have. Collapsed dorsal fins are very uncommon in the wild, and shows a sign of an unhealthy and stressed orca. He has had multiple incidents of aggression, and with the stress of captivity he expresses abnormal repetitive behaviors. Such behaviors he expresses are chewing on metal gates and the concrete side of the tank. Tilikum has been so invested in these behaviors that his teeth are completely worn down. His stress of being captive causes him to lash out with aggression towards humans, which has unfortunately cost an additional two lives. On July 6th 1999, Daniel P. Dukes visited SeaWorld, but stayed after the park closed and trespassed into the orca tank. He never walked out of that park, and was found the next morning naked and dead lying on the back of Tilikum. The autopsy showed numerous wounds, contusions, and abrasions on his body, and concluded his death was a result of drowning. The most recent person to be killed by Tilikum was a trainer at SeaWorld, Dawn Brancheau. In 2010, Dawn was finishing up a “Dine with Shamu” show when the “unthinkable” happened. She went to massage his belly, when Tilikum dragged her in the pool (witnesses say by her arm, but SeaWorld claims it was her ponytail). He scalped, dismembered, and broke bones throughout her body before officially drowning her.

After Dawn’s death, Tilikum was kept in a tiny pool with an even more limited ability to swim and interact with other whales and humans. During that time he was reported to of been floating aimlessly for hours at a time, which is another abnormal repetitive behavior. He returned to performing after a year of his isolation. It is clear to most people after looking into Tilikum’s life that he shouldn’t be forced to perform, and should be given a chance to have a real life experience. Despite all the controversy and news on Tilikum, SeaWorld still decides to keep him and force him to perform every day. SeaWorld is actually appealing its citation for violating a federal workplace safety law meant to protect workers from recognized life-threatening hazard. They are actually asking the government to allow humans to swim with orcas, despite the huge risk. Tilikum is not the only orca to show aggression towards humans. This aggression is due to the stress of constantly being confined to a small pool at SeaWorld. But, that is only with the captive orcas, because orca aggression towards humans in the wild is almost non-existent.

There have been so many signs showing why we shouldn’t keep orcas held captive, yet SeaWorld continues to purchase, breed, and perform them. Tilikum and all other captive orcas deserve their right to freedom, and to live a happy life. Unfortunately, SeaWorld and other corporations like so, use these orcas to gain a profit. Tilikum could have lived a happy life in the wild if he hadn’t of been ripped apart from it, and so could the 3 lives his captivity led him to take. Hopefully after reading this it is clear to you how sad Tilikums life is, and how desperately we need to help these sad and lonely orcas.