Recently I saw the documentary film Blackfish at the Enzian Theater (300 S Orlando Ave, Maitland, FL). The film is about Tilikum, (Tilly), a killer whale who killed a SeaWorld trainer several years ago. The film opens with the 911 call to retrieve the body. Tilly was captured in the wild. The killer whale pod split in two with the females and children going up one estuary while the males went another way avert the pursuing boats. Spotter planes however redirected the pursuit. In a horrible west coast floating sea park called Sea Land of the Pacific, Tilly had to spend each evening in a cramped pitch black holding module 20 feet deep and 28 feet in diameter with two adult killer whales who attacked him every night. Each morning he had new bloody wounds. Tilly attacked and killed a handler named Keltie Byrne at that park in 1991.
When that sea park folded, Sea World Orlando purchased Tilly on January 9th of 1992 because they didn't have a male killer whale. Tilly was responsive and bright but his dorsal fin was misshapen, sagging sadly to the side. This never seen in the wild. It is not unusual for animals in circuses, zoos, traveling exhibits, and amusement parks to injure or kill trainers. On July 6th 1999, Daniel P. Dukes a park patron hid and stayed in the Orlando SeaWorld park overnight. He had the brilliant idea to swim in Tilly's enclosure. The next morning they found his nude dead body, on Tilly's back as the killer whale did laps in his tiny cement pool. An autopsy of the body found multiple wounds, contusions, and abrasions, and concluded he may have died from hypothermia and drowning. It also noted "laceration and avulsion of the scrotum and testes". In other words, his nuts were chewed off.
On February 24, 2010 Tilly killed the lead SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. Sea World put a spin on the story released to the media, blaming the Dawn, because she had a pony tail that may have gotten caught in Tilikum's teeth, stating further that the trainer's hair may have also been confused for a toy or a fish because Dawn had been holding a fish previously and may have touched her hair afterwards, leaving the scent. SeaWorld would be innocent, if the trainer was seen to be at fault in the eye of public opinion. Video shows Tilly dragging dawn by the arm. According to the six-page autopsy report, Dawn's left arm and part of her scalp were ripped off, she suffered spinal cord injuries, her ribs were broken, as were bones in her legs, arms, and face, she had bruises and cuts all over her body, and, ultimately, she was drowned.
Other SeaWorld trainers realized that they could be next, so they went on camera for the Blackfish documentary. One reason Tilly is still in captivity is because his sperm is needed to impregnate the female killer whales. 21 killer whales calves have been born in captivity using his sperm. He is actually masturbated by trainers rather than breed naturally. which violates the court order to keep trainers fron having contact with the killer whale.
Tilikum returned to performing on March 30, 2011 using his fluke everyday to soak the crowds of spectators who pay to see him swim in the tight enclosure. After every performance he is sent to solitary confinement. In the wild his dorsal fin would stand erect as it sliced through open water. He could be part of a social pod that hunted together. These aren't cute plush toys to be exploited. They are killer whales that are majestic in the wild. They may follow orders from their captives to survive captivity but you can only push a killer whale so far before they snap. Any killer whale in captivity has psychological scars. People still pay, perhaps hoping to see the next one snap. Trainers are expendable but a killer whale is a gold mine.
On September 15th, over 50 people showed up for this demonstration standing in the blazing sun in front of the Sea World entrance to dissuade people from going inside. Unfortunately the park had been open for several hours so traffic was on the light side. Passers by honked in support. Others shouted out in anger that they would spend their money as they pleased.
PETA's 5 Reasons to Boycott SeaWorld...
- Twenty-four dead killer whales – and counting. Of the 24 killer whales who have died at SeaWorld since 1986, not one died of old age. Many of their deaths were caused by captivity-induced illnesses.
- Life in a bathtub drains marine mammals' spirits. Forcing animals who naturally travel up to 100 miles a day in the open ocean to swim in continuous circles in tiny, barren concrete tanks causes stress-related behaviors, including suicide.
- SeaWorld tears families apart. In the wild, dolphins spend their entire lives in a pod with their mothers and sisters. Capturing even one dolphin disrupts the entire pod. Dolphins born in captivity are often taken away from their loved ones and shipped to other facilities.
- Frustrated animals are dangerous to people. Aside from the trainers killed by angry captive whales, the USDA has cited SeaWorld for several instances in which dolphins injured people in its swim-with-the-dolphins program.
- If you don't support the jailing of innocent people, you shouldn't support SeaWorld. Scientists at Emory University mapped the brains of dolphins and concluded that they are second only to humans in intelligence. Captivity is as hard on these sensitive animals as it is on people, but the dolphins are being punished without having committed a crime.