The Tragedy of the Orca Tilikum Featured by Northwest Artist Kelli Clifton

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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.

This image shows the dorsal collapse of the bent fin, and three faces representing those killed by Tilikum.
This image shows the dorsal collapse of the bent fin, and three faces representing those killed by Tilikum.

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:

From Occupy SW
Tilikum after the third death, from Occupy SW.

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.

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