Along with the rest of the world, WDCS was heartbroken this week over the death of Dawn Brancheau, long time trainer at Sea World Orlando. Dawn drowned after being pulled into the tank with a 30-year-old male orca, Tilikum. Our condolences are with her friends, family and colleagues, following this tragedy. As well as, to the audiences members who witnessed the event.
This event is even more heartbreaking because it could have been avoided. If common sense hadn't told us that that keeping a 6 ton wild animal that swims 100 miles a day in a tiny pool was a bad idea, then the other human deaths that resulted from interactions with these animals should have. This is not an isolated incident for the captive industry or this particular whale. In 1991, Tilikum, who was captured from the wild in Iceland at the age of two , was involved in the death of a trainer in Canada at Sealand of the Pacific. After this first death Tilikum was transferred to Sea World Orlando where in 1999 a man who entered the park at night was found dead the following morning, draped over the back of Tilikum.
Tilikum is by no means the only Orca that has acted out. Just this Christmas, another trainer at Loro Parque on the Spanish Canary Islands was killed during in-water training with an orca that was imported from Sea World. In 2007 at this same facility, a trainer was injured during a training session when a orca crashed into her, causing a chest injury and breaking her arm. The trainer had to be rescued by her colleagues after the animal dragged her to the bottom of the pool.
These deaths are not intentional attacks from the orcas, they are the byproduct of the mismatch of size and strength between humans and whales. Whales have many complex behaviors - some for play, some for reprimanding their young- but all geared to their own species, not a tiny human. There are scores of incidents between trainers and captive marine mammals that had the interaction gone on just a bit longer would have resulted in human loss of life. In 2006 a trainer at Sea World San Diego was held underwater by another 30 year old Orca during a show – resulting in a broken foot. That same Orca had attacked that same trainer on two prior occasions, in 1993 and 1999." />
Another Orca at Sea World San Antonio repeatedly slammed its trainer underwater during a show. It seems all these incidents caused the state of California to issue a report in 2007, concluding that it is 'just a matter of time' before a captive orca at Sea World’s Adventure park killed a trainer. That report was withdrawn by the agency that issued it after two days of talks with Sea World officials. The report stated that the animals prove deadly to their human trainers by virtue of their size alone.
And these mismatches of size and strength have been occuring for over 40 years now. Here's old video from the 70's of an incident that could have gone very different if the whale had truly intended to injure a woman. " />
Since the tragedy that took Mrs. Brancheau’s life, we have been in constant correspondence with the news media and the concerned community. Comments from the public and from many former trainers echo our calls of concern. Polls in the media have shown an overwhelming response to the question of whether or not these animals even belong in captivity. The answer being - No.
One of the former marine mammal trainers who touched me was Kathryn Taubert. In her blog she speaks about how she became disenchanted with the captive industry due to at times what seemed like "economic motivation often overrode the needs of the animals in our care. I often felt that the quality of their lives mattered less than the amount of "work" we could get from them to satisfy investors".
In fact, it was another trainer turned advocate, Ric O’ Barry, who brought us The Cove. Ric O’ Barry, trained the famous dolphin Flipper, but has since dedicated his life to freeing dolphins and other sea mammals from theme parks and stopping the slaughter of dolphins in drive hunts. He is the main subject of the film The Cove, now nominated for an Oscar as Best Documentary.
Sea World has stated they plan to keep Tilikum at their facility and continue to use him as a breeding animal. Instead, WDCS believes Tillikum should be offered the chance of a better life in his native waters, hopefully one day returned to the wild. Although returning home is uncertain and lengthy process, we own him a chance.