His iconic life represented all that was wrong about keeping these majestic whales in tanks. Rest in peace, Tilikum.
SeaWorld’s media release:
The Life and Care Of Tilikum At SeaWorld
The SeaWorld family is deeply saddened to announce that one of its most well-known orcas, Tilikum, has passed away. Tilikum passed away early this morning, January 6, surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care.
Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues. While the official cause of death will not be determined until the necropsy is completed, the SeaWorld veterinarians were treating a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection. The suspected bacteria is part of a group of bacteria that is found in water and soil both in wild habitats and zoological settings.
Tilikum’s veterinarians and caretakers delivered various treatment regimens over the course of this illness, which consisted of, among other things, combinations of anti-inflammatories, anti-bacterials, anti-nausea medications, hydration therapy and aerosolized antimicrobial therapy.
While today is a difficult day for the SeaWorld family, it’s important to remember that Tilikum lived a long and enriching life while at SeaWorld and inspired millions of people to care about this amazing species.
Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau. While we all experienced profound sadness about that loss, we continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible, each and every day, from the country’s leading experts in marine mammals.
“Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired,” said President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”
Tilikum became a part of SeaWorld’s family 25 years ago. Estimated to be about 36 years old, Tilikum was near the high end of the average life expectancy for male killer whales according to an independent scientific review.
Tilikum was not born at or collected by SeaWorld. He came to us from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada. SeaWorld has not collected a whale from the wild in nearly 40 years, and this past March we announced the end of the orca breeding program effectively making the whales currently at SeaWorld the last generation of orcas under human care.
Today SeaWorld released an ominous video (below) about 12,000 pound Tilikum’s condition in which they explain his deteriorating condition which is due to a drug resistant pneumonia.
As shown in the film Blackfish, and meticulously detailed in the book Death at SeaWorld, Tilikum’s life in captivity is iconic of all that is wrong about keeping whales in tanks. Several people may have died from the actions of this whale, but he is equally a victim.
It is time to Empty the Tanks.
Blackfish, the film that centers around the death of SeaWorld trainers and the amusement park’s treatment of orcas, will be shown at 7 pm EST on Saturday, December 20th. If you miss it, the film is also available on Netflix and can be watched at any time during a free trial.
This film lifts the veils of secrecy and illusion and shines a light on the stark reality of SeaWorld’s circus-like entertainment, and is credited with bringing the amusement park to its financial knees. Lowered attendance, tumbling stock value, and negative public opinion can be traced back to the first opening of Blackfish, and CNN’s decision to promote it widely. (SunSentinel)
The good news is that SeaWorld’s management is undergoing a massive transformation, and now they have a chance to redeem themselves in the court of public opinion. There are some indications that they are going to become what we would all like to see and experience – an open, accessible park built on helping the marine mammals that are sorely in need, so please watch for opportunities to answer polls and encourage SeaWorld’s board of directors in that direction.
Your opinion really does matter.
If a picture is really worth a thousand words, then this one suggests that we all remain silent and take in the message that it so eloquently brings to life: the whale Tilikum, who has killed three humans, suffers a tormented soul, his body and spirit bent but not broken, his life representing the rag-doll capture of a species long know to the native peoples of the world to be our equivalent in the ocean.
The artist, Kelli Clifton, writes about how profoundly upset she was by the life captive orcas are forced to live:
Last summer I traveled to Vancouver after hearing about a documentary film called Blackfish. Having worked as a whale watching tour guide, and coming from a [Native American] nation where the killer whale is one of our four crests, I’ve always had a fascination with these beautiful creatures.
After viewing the film, my heart felt broken. For months I couldn’t stop speaking about all that I had learned in relation to Blackfish. Eventually, speaking about it wasn’t enough for me. I needed to share the story in a way that was more familiar to myself-through my artwork. My latest painting, Tilikum, shares the sad story of a whale who lives in captivity.
About the design:
The head pointing down symbolizes death, while the collapsed dorsal fin is a result of being held captive. Many of the cut-out marks along the body are rake marks made by other whales’ teeth. The three faces are to honour those who lost their lives, and the colours used are inspired by those found in SeaWorld’s logo.
If you have not yet seen the film, I encourage everyone to do so. It is a powerful story about the exploitation of these animals, and I hope its message will both inform and move you as much as it did me.
Compare the respect offered to orcas by indigenous cultures to that of SeaWorld, it is a heartbreaking contrast as these trainers demonstrate:
There is a dignity and grace in wild orcas that is muted and sad in the ones in captivity, a grace that has intrigued us from before recorded time. Early drawings show that people everywhere – the oldest known records are from Norway – have always held these whales in high esteem, a respect we held until corporations tried to turn them into circus clowns over the last 50 years.
(From an earlier article):
Figures of animals, humans and geometric forms extend over hundreds of miles [in the Peruvian high desert], and it is believed that they were constructed over centuries. Why they were made is anyone’s guess, (current theory is that it is related to their spiritual beliefs), but the inclusion of an orca and another type of whale tells us that these animals were of importance to them.
Some of the oldest known images of orcas, however, were found in the granite fields of Leiknes, Norway, which is host to petroglyphs (rock carvings) believed to be [six to nine thousand] years old.
A cave on San Nicolas Island (one of the islands off the California coast) is known as ‘Cave of the Killer Whales‘, named for the numerous images of orcas carved into the sandstone walls. These drawings are believed to pre-date the indigenous tribes who later occupied the islands.
Petroglyphs depicting orcas can be found up the Northwest coast all the way to Alaska, and for a fascinating read on the subject I recommend Bill Leen’s website, A Gallery of Northwest Petroglyphs: Shamanic Art of the Pacific Northwest.
With filmmakers such as those involved with Blackfish, and artists such as Kelli, humanity is waking up to see all that is wrong about keeping these magnificent animals in tanks.
Children often have strong opinions about what goes on in the world around them, and can feel powerless to express their thoughts and to be heard, yet their thoughts can have a powerful effect on us all – two examples that come to mind are The Diary of Ann Frank, and the famous letter “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” .
Teachers must have their work cut out for them in today’s world, where because of media access children are bombarded with information and are witness to events from which they once were sheltered. How to help and empower them so that they can grow up to be contributing adults who work to solve problems may not be every teacher’s task, but it certainly is every teacher’s mission.
One such person is Mr. Parkinson, a computer specialist at a school in Manchester, England, who is focusing on teaching kids how to use ipads as a tool and who found the documentary film “Blackfish” touching and powerful. Because he felt that some of the content would be disturbing, he only has the children watch the trailer (below). The film is not scheduled to be released in Europe so there is no question that the kids would be exposed to the really disturbing events. Mr. Parkinson writes:
In my quest to find a topic that I want to ignite the children’s passion to write and share work through the school blog, I watched a very moving and interesting film over the summer called Blackfish. The documentary exposes the dreadful life of Killer Whales in captivity. Although I don’t feel the film is appropriate for children to watch and have emphasised this point with them (some scenes of the whales attacking trainers etc.) The message that it portrays, however, is one I wanted to share with the class. I wanted to use a real life issue to inspire writing and this is one that the film has really brought into the public eye.
Mr Parkinson told us about a film he watched over the summer called, Blackfish. This documentary explored the effects captivity have on killer whales. After Mr Parkinson told us a little about the film, we wanted to research some of the effects ourselves and were astonished to see how unfair and unnatural it is to keep these very intelligent animals in captivity. Mr Parkinson made it clear that the film wasn’t appropriate to watch however did show us a suitable clip that demonstrated some of the effects captivity has on Orca.
We wanted to start this topic with a bang and raise as much awareness as possible so we decided to make a class advert for this issue. We discussed features we could include to make our advert as effective and really grab people’s attention. We used camera effects and emotive music to set the mood. We used rhetorical questions to make the viewer think and persuade them to agree with our viewpoint.
If you agree with the message in our video, please help us raise awareness by sharing our video with as many people as possible. This will hopefully provide our blog with an audience to showcase the writing we will be producing over the next few weeks. We would also love it if you can comment on our video to let us know what you think. Some of the children have already been writing about this issue and you can read them here.
After years of stonewalling and hiding behind a media curtain of information that has been somewhat adjacent to factual reality, Seaworld has finally decided to engage in public debate on the issue of keeping killer whales in amusement parks. They tried to ignore the book “Death at Seaworld” and fought the federal government on keeping trainers safe (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirby/seaworld-suffers-legal-se_b_3041229.html) , but the sensational film Blackfish will soon hit theaters across America – and it cannot be ignored.
What does Seaworld has to say about the blockbuster documentary? (My comments are in blue):
From Seaworld Vice President of Communications, Fred Jacobs: “Dear Film Critic: I’m writing to you on behalf of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. You may be aware of a documentary called “Blackfish” that purports to expose SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales (or orcas) and the “truth” behind the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. In the event you are planning to review this film, we thought you should be apprised of the following. Although “Blackfish” is by most accounts a powerful, emotionally-moving piece of advocacy, it is also shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate. As the late scholar and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously noted: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”
“The film’s most egregious and untrue allegations include”:
“The insinuation that SeaWorld stocks its parks with killer whales captured from the wild. In fact, SeaWorld hasn’t collected a killer whale from the wild in more than 35 years; more than 80% of the killer whales at SeaWorld were born there or in other zoological facilities.” [This is because public sentiment is against capture, and it is specifically illegal in the state of Washington where Seaworld and other amusement parks captured wild orcas in the past].
“The assertion that killer whales in the wild live more than twice as long as those living at SeaWorld. While research suggests that some wild killer whales can live as long as 60 or 70 years, their average lifespan is nowhere near that. Nor is it true that killer whales in captivity live only 25 to 35 years. Because we’ve been studying killer whales at places like SeaWorld for only 40 years or so, we don’t know what their lifespans might be—though we do know that SeaWorld currently has one killer whale in her late 40s and a number of others in their late 30s.” [The ‘killer whale in her late 40s is Corky, taken from Canadian waters. Her family still lives in the area near Vancouver, B.C.].
“The implication that unlike killer whales in the wild, killer whales in zoos or parks—and specifically Tilikum, the whale involved in Dawn Brancheau’s death—are routinely bullied by other whales. The word “bullying” is meaningless when applied to the behavior of an animal like a killer whale. Whales live in a social setting with a dominance hierarchy, both at SeaWorld and in the wild. They express dominance in a variety of ways, including using their teeth to “rake” other whales, in the open ocean as well as in parks.” [Whales are unable to escape each other in the confines of the pools.]
“The accusation that SeaWorld callously breaks up killer whale families. SeaWorld does everything possible to support the social structures of all marine mammals, including killer whales. It moves killer whales only when doing so is in the interest of their long-term health and welfare. And despite the misleading footage in the film, the only time it separates unweaned killer whale calves from their mothers is when the mothers have rejected them.” [Calves are still babies at two years old, whether or not they are still nursing. They are the equivalent of a two year old child in their development].
“The accusation that SeaWorld mistreats its killer whales with punishment-based training that’s designed to force them to learn unnatural behaviors. SeaWorld has never used punishment-based training on any of its animals, including Tilikum, only positive reinforcement. And the behaviors it reinforces are always within the killer whale’s natural range of behaviors.” [Withholding food is considered punishment].
“The accusation that SeaWorld trainers were not adequately informed about Tilikum. From the time Tilikum first arrived at SeaWorld, all trainers were warned—both as part of their training and in writing—that they were not allowed in the water with him. In fact, as was widely reported and covered at length in the OSHA proceedings, Tilikum has always had his own set of training protocols and only the most experienced trainers have been allowed to work with him.” [The trainers were not fully informed of the deaths].
The accusation that SeaWorld tried to “spin” the story of Dawn Brancheau’s death, changing its story several times and blaming her for the tragedy. As the movie itself shows, it was local law enforcement—not SeaWorld—that issued the initial report that Dawn had accidentally fallen into the water. SeaWorld’s account of what happened—that Tilikum had grabbed Dawn’s ponytail and pulled her in—never varied. And the company has never blamed Dawn for what happened. (The person in the film who did was not a SeaWorld spokesperson.) [Was it not a Seaworld employee?]
“The assertion that Tilikum attacked and killed Dawn Brancheau because he was driven crazy by his years in captivity. Tilikum did not attack Dawn. All evidence indicates that Tilikum became interested in the novelty of Dawn’s ponytail in his environment and, as a result, he grabbed it and pulled her into the water”. [This is contested, and all evidence indicates that Dawn was pulled in by her arm, not her ponytail.]
“These are only the most egregious of the film’s many misrepresentations. “Blackfish” is similarly misleading and inaccurate in its account of the other fatal incidents in which Tilikum was supposedly involved, what happened at Loro Parque, the training and qualifications of SeaWorld trainers, and the care and living conditions enjoyed by SeaWorld’s orcas.” [How so?]
“And the list goes on…and on. SeaWorld is proud of its legacy of supporting marine science and environmental awareness in general and the cause of killer whales in particular. Our point in sending you this note is to make you aware that what “Blackfish” presents as unvarnished reality is anything but. We don’t expect this to settle the debate, but rather we hope it will begin one. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Fred Jacobs“. [Please do contact him as he has requested!]
Contact information for Fred Jacobs: Fred Jacobs
Vice President, Communications
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Just in time for summer, Death At Seaworld will soon hit the shelves in paperback – light and portable, it will be even harder to put down than was the hardback version. The book chronicles the death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau at the jaws of Tilikum, the enormous killer whale who grabbed and dismantled her, his third victim.
Author David Kirby crafts the story in such a way that the reader comes to understand how the whale’s mind and body have been psychologically and physically damaged by life in captivity, ultimately leading to his aberrant attacks on humans (which never occur in the wild). You can’t help but wonder where the breaking point is for all the rest of the captive orcas, when another one will snap and end the life of another a human being.
Following Dawn’s death Tilikum’s days have been spent drifting aimlessly in the confines of his featureless tank, looking bored, broken, and unhealthy. He occasionally participates in shows to break the monotony.
You might want to pre-order your copy of Death at Seaworld at Amazon to get it when first released so you have time to read it before the film Blackfish is released a few weeks later…you’ll want to be prepared. See below to find out how get the author’s autograph.
#1 Readers Poll Choice for Summer Books –Wall Street Journal Online “Kirby makes a passionate case for captivity as the reason orcas become killers (and) tells the story like a thriller. His argument is, for the most part, fair and persuasive… We probably can’t free the orcas in captivity today, but we could make the current group of captive killer whales the last.” –Wall Street Journal
Belying their claim to be in the business of education, Seaworld bends facts to hide the damage captive conditions causes the animals in their care. In this video, the viewers are told that Tilikum’s dorsal fin flops over his back because of genetics but there is no research to support this, and it happens to a frightening number of unrelated captive whales.
And on the subject of research, even though Seaworld claims that keeping whales in tanks make it possible to do research that will ultimately help both the whales’ wild brethren and humanity (how?), it would be easier to get the formula for Coca Cola than it is to find what research has been done by them. Various scientists have reported that Seaworld rarely grants access to the whales, even for observational studies which would not interfere with the amusement park’s programs.
Please join our “Death at SeaWorld” paperback initiative to get this incredible book on the best-sellers list! If you preorder the book and send us proof-of-purchase we will send you a signed sticker by David Kirby to put in the front of your new book! Already own the hardback? No problem; consider ordering a paperback and donating to a library or high school to get the word out. https://www.facebook.com/events/420429341398500/
SeaWorld is still trying to convince the government that the amusement park can keep their workers safe in these conditions, good luck with that:
Maybe they have a plan to drug the whales, or give them lobotomies…the recent video below of Tilikum (the whale who killed several people) is reminiscent of the fate that befell the rebellious Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” when he crossed the wrong person and wound up with a lobotomy. Tilikum is actually probably just bored into this mind-numbing repetitious, neurotic behavior.
And by the way, you might wait to buy stock in SeaWorld when they go public soon -after the next trainer injury the value will plummet and you will be able to pick it up for pennies on the dollar.
Apparently SeaWorld is raking it in while raking its employees over the coals. Author David Kirby has uncovered much about SeaWorld that has previously been kept out of public scrutiny, and he reveals it all in his soon to be released book, “Death At SeaWorld”. In a recent press release, Kirby shared a few of his discoveries of what goes on behind the scenes at these amusement parks.
Here are some samples of what the book covers: SEAWORLD’S DISREGARD FOR EMPLOYEES’ SAFETY, HIRING DISCRIMINATION:
•Two former employees filed sworn affidavits alleging that SeaWorld hid or destroyed documents sought by federal agents in the investigation of Brancheau’s death, and tried to impede other parts of the investigation. (Both whistleblowers subsequently retracted their allegations within a short period of time of each other.
•One of the whistleblowers alleged that senior male trainers at Shamu Stadium had sexually harassed female trainers, asking for sexual favors in exchange for more “water time” with the whales. When asked about the matter, SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs did not deny the allegations.
•SeaWorld was the subject of a lengthy audit and investigation by the US Department of Labor over unfair hiring practices. Government inspectors asserted that more than 1000 qualified African-American and Hispanic applicants had been turned down for employment.
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld for a “willful” violation of the law in the Brancheau incident and said the company had acted with plain indifference to employee safety.
• SeaWorld will likely challenge any negative ruling from its appeal to the OSHA violation, which would send the case to Washington, DC, where the ongoing process would pit SeaWorld’s owner, The Blackstone Group, against US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Blackstone’s CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, is a major-league supporter of Mitt Romney and once compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. TILIKUM AND DAWN BRANCHEAU:
• SeaWorld routinely allowed its most senior trainers to put themselves in extremely vulnerable positions with Tilikum, even though he had already been involved in the death of two people.
• Some SeaWorld defenders said the incident was Dawn’s fault and she should never have been in such a vulnerable position. But several SeaWorld witnesses at the hearing to overturn the OSHA violation testified that Dawn did not break protocol that day.
• Despite the clear danger of being in shallow water so close to Tilikum, SeaWorld to this day considers what Dawn was doing when she died to be “dry work” instead of “water work.”
• SeaWorld had been clearly warned of the risks in allowing water work. Following a serious incident at SeaWorld San Diego in 2006 in which a trainer nearly drowned, the California state OSHA wrote: “If someone hasn’t been killed already, it is only a matter of time before it does happen.”
• SeaWorld successfully exerted its considerable political influence to have the death warning redacted from the final report that was issued in 2007. ORCA CONSERVATION & SCIENCE:
• Contrary to popular belief, SeaWorld conducts only limited scientific research on killer whales in its collection, and does very little to directly impact wild orca habitat.
• A careful review of the published, peer-reviewed literature shows that most studies done on SeaWorld’s orcas pertain to the husbandry of captive animals, with little benefit for those in the ocean.
• SeaWorld does not appear to be active in saving the threatened and endangered orcas of the Pacific Northwest or the wild salmon on which they depend.
In a misguided attempt to suppress the distribution of a forthcoming book that exposes the dark side of captivity, SeaWorld fans have started a goofy online petition. Some of those fans usually dedicate themselves to prowling the internet and trying to suppress any criticism of that amusement park, complaining to FaceBook, or trolling their way through YouTube. In a chorus of “No Anti-captivity Remarks Allowed!!!” they always seem to ‘LMFAO’ at the reality of how the orcas are treated. But now a SeaWorld bff has started an online petition to boycott the sale of author David Kirby’s forthcoming book, ‘Death At SeaWorld’. The petition is just plain silly – it reads in part:
Target: All bookstores and media outlets
Sponsored by: SeaWorld fans and supporters Note to signers: All anti-captivity comments will be removed!!! Only sign this petition if you support SeaWorld!!! This coming march [actually the book is not due out until July], David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld will be released in various bookstores. This book discusses the controversy of keeping killer whales in captivity, which has revolved around the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau on February 24 2010. It also follows the story of marine biologist Naomi Rose of the U.S. Humane Society. Kirby not only mentions people who campaign against SeaWorld, such as former trainers and eyewitnesses, but he also mentions incidents between killer whales and trainers, including Dawn’s death.
In addition, he describes the ongoing case between SeaWorld and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
This book should not be sold or promoted in any way.
If you are pro-captivity, it is much more effective to contact the publisher, St. Martin’s Press at firstname.lastname@example.org than to sign the petition, which is just targeted to come back to the media and bookstores. On the other hand, if you wish to find out the facts and to understand the controversy, it is a good idea to pre-order the book, it may sell out quickly: Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.