Editors Note: I never met Tilikum, but i talked a lot about him. In every class that addressed animal rights I said his name, and noted his long suffering at SeaWorld. I wrote a lot about him too — the links at the bottom are all to pieces here that centered his story and the related plight off all animals held in captivity. And I thought a lot about him — more than I maybe even realized. In the aftermath of Blackfish, I questioned the prevailing narrative that Tilikum, through decades of torture, had become a psychotic killer who dragged 3 people to their watery deaths, including finally, SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.
While the torture is undisputed, I attribute the motives to something other than aggression. The last photo of Dawn and Tilikum shows her smiling beside him in the pool – no fear, but happiness and love. It is impossible for me to imagine that Tilikum wanted to hurt her. I have known the 100 lb dogs who think they can sit in your lap, and the 1200 lb horses who believe they can literally lean on you as comrades. Their love makes the species barriers vanish, but the challenges of size differences do not dissipate.
So I can imagine too the 12,000 lb orca — confined and deprived of family and ocean — wanting the woman in the matching wet suit to stay there with him that pool. And that is my vision of Tilikum always — not one of anger and aggression – but of kinship and love.
Thank you Tilikum for all you have taught us. I am sorry humans failed you so horribly, but now, Be Free.
Tilikum, SeaWorld’s Most Exploited Orca, Has Died, PeTA
Tilikum—the ‘star’ of Blackfish, the damning documentary about SeaWorld’s miserable practice of ripping orca babies from their ocean families and then breeding them in captivity—is dead following decades of exploitation in the marine-mammal abusement industry.
Tilikum was captured from the ocean, taken from his family, and stuck in a small cement cell, less than a hundred millionth the size of the waters he would swim in if left with his family. He was not only forced to perform meaningless tricks for food but also sexually manipulated, his sperm taken to produce more baby orcas for SeaWorld to use and sell. His human captors (who dishonestly call Tilikum part of their “family”—although a family doesn’t kidnap its members from their rightful mothers, keep them in a barren and closet-sized space for life, and exploit them for decades for profit) had been forced to admit that Tilikum was sick, then, finally, that he was dead– perhaps from chemicals in the tank, no one knows yet—but his death was only the culmination of a miserable lifetime of confinement.
SeaWorld’s announcement that it is ending its orca-breeding program came too late for Tilikum, who was forcibly bred 21 times—with 11 of his offspring dying before him. His life was tragic and filled with pain, and the lives of the animals forced to remain in SeaWorld’s tanks and exhibits will be as well. Tilikum should be the last orca to die in misery at a SeaWorld amusement park.
When Tilikum was just 3 years old, he was caught by marine “cowboys” who kidnapped dolphins and orcas to sell to amusement parks. He was stolen from his family—his pod—in the open waters off Iceland and forced to live in tiny tanks and cramped enclosures for the remainder of his life, unable to use his echolocation, to swim away, to travel the oceans, to hear or see his relatives, to do anything that resembled living. He was “trained” to eat what he was given and do what he was told. He was also trained to roll over, which allowed SeaWorld workers to masturbate him with a gloved hand and collect his semen in a container. It used Tilikum as its chief sperm-producing machine, churning out more performers through artificial insemination for a miserable life that no one would ever willingly choose.
Tilikum grew so massive inside the tiny tanks that confined him that he could not escape the aggressive, incompatible orcas who would leave him torn up and bloodied. The constant stress and deprivation drove Tilikum to kill three humans—including trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010—and to wear his teeth to the nubs from chewing on the underwater bars of his prison. It is little wonder that Tilikum succumbed to mental illness under such conditions and, finally, to some incurable physical illness.
Dawn Brancheau was one of SeaWorld’s star performers.
Tilikum died without ever again knowing freedom, along with 11 of his children who died prematurely before him and leaving 10 more who will continue to suffer in tiny concrete tanks. PETA is calling on SeaWorld to do the right thing and move the remaining orcas to coastal sanctuaries, where they could enjoy a more natural life, and on caring people to shun facilities that enslave animals for our “entertainment.”
How Tilikum the Orca Changed the Conversation About Animals in Captivity
“Tilikum, the orca at the center of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” has died at SeaWorld Orlando, the marine park announced Friday (Jan. 6)…Tilikum was the focus of a controversy over the ethics of keeping orcas in captivity. Over his approximately 33 years in captivity, he was involved in three human deaths, including the death of a trainer at SeaWorld in front of a horrified audience of onlookers after a show in 2010. ,,
Tilikum’s story launched a public conversation about large marine mammals in captivity, including how to make life in a pool better for these animals. But it also opened up a broader debate about whether to keep large mammals in captivity at all.”
Tilikum and Granny are dead. Here’s why you should care about these killer whales
“Two more public figures passed on last week: an impressive centenarian and community leader; and a killer serving life imprisonment. They taught us about one of the planet’s most intelligent creatures, and our own capacity for love and cruelty…
Granny was also a symbol of freedom during the most disastrous period of human-cetacean relations, dodging the “capture kings” of the 1960s and 70s who grabbed hundreds of killer whales and placed them in aquariums for our amusement.
Tilikum embodied this cruelty. Snatched from Icelandic waters aged two as recently as 1983, he was transported first to a Canadian marine park and then to SeaWorld in the US. One former trainer estimates this impressive alpha male was the largest cetacean ever to be held in captivity“
“the sea is another story”
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