Tilikum: Prisoner or performer?

     Orca Tilikum watches his trainers from a tank at Sea World's Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Fla.. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, file)

    Orca Tilikum watches his trainers from a tank at Sea World's Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Fla.. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, file)

    How would you feel if you were ripped away from your family and forced to perform in a much smaller environment? Pretty angry, right? That is exactly how Tilikum feels. Tilikum is a 13,000 pound bull orca (male killer whale) who has been involved in the death of three innocent people. Should SeaWorld set him free, or wait until the next tragedy occurs?

    This essay was written by a student in Katherine Cohen’s 7th-grade English class at Greenberg Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia. The students were assigned the task of writing a persuasive letter. Some of those letters have been revised by the students and submitted to be published in various Philadelphia media outlets.

    How would you feel if you were ripped away from your family and forced to perform in a much smaller environment? Pretty angry, right? That is exactly how Tilikum feels. Tilikum is a 13,000 pound bull orca (male killer whale) who has been involved in the death of three innocent people. Should Sea World set him free, or wait until the next tragedy occurs? As you read on, you will see that it is imperative that Sea World release him back into the wild, where he belongs, immediately.

    In the wild, orcas can swim as far as they please with no restrictions at all, but in captivity that is obviously not the case. Tilikum, among many others, is forced to swim in the same pool over and over again. There are seven pools at Sea World. Now I would be lying if I said these animals are never moved into different pools. These animals are of course moved into different pools from time to time, but they are still barely swimming as much as they normally would in their natural environment. This can sadly cause boredom, anger and worst of all, an early death for these creatures.

    We see these symptoms in Tilikum often, maybe too often. An example of anger in him is when he killed any of his victims. We do not know why he killed any of them, but a possible answer would be frustration.

    In the wild, there are not any known or documented orca attacks or killings on humans. However, 23 years ago, Keltie Byrne fell into the orca tank at Sealand of the Pacific, in Victoria, BC, Canada. The three orcas threw her around with their mouths as if she were a toy. Tilikum was an active member in this “game” that no one won. In 1999, Daniel P. Dukes was found on the morning of July 6th on Tilikum’s back completely nude. He apparently snuck into the park after hours, took off his clothing and dove into the tank. The autopsy showed that he died of drowning and hypothermia, his genitals however were missing. In February 2010, Tilikum dragged his long time trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into the pool by her ponytail and brutally killed her. Three murders, and he is still at Sea World, even though he is a threat to his trainers and anyone who has physical contact with him.

    Orcas normally swim in pods or family units in the ocean. An adult orca would never leave his mother’s side. At Sea World, they just put orcas together however they please, except for Tilikum. He is kept by himself, and every now and then his grandson Trua will be able to come be with him for a little bit. After Dawn’s tragic death, Sea World was sued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ban all water work with Tilikum because he is too dangerous to work with up close. The saddest part about his isolation is that he is not even allowed to mate properly. Instead they massage his shaft until he ejaculates into a clear plastic bag. Then they take his semen and inject it into the female orcas. He really only operates as a floating sperm bank.

    Tilikum has made it clear that he wants to go home. This poor animal is just angry and lonely. He is always bored of swimming in the same place day after day. He has been so angry that he has murdered three people. Not to mention, he has been isolated since 2010 and only used for his sperm. Tilikum lashes out to give us a message that is clear to everyone but Sea World. He wants to go home. We need to make this message clear to Sea World for the sake of Tilikum’s life and the safety of his trainers. Join the movement and boycott Sea World.

    Editor’s Note: Tilikum returned to performing on March 30, 2011.

    Sources:

    Blackfish,” directed by Gabriella Cowperthwaite
    ‘Blackfish’ Director: Killer Whales Don’t Belong in Captivity,” by Gabriella Cowperthwaite, The Daily Beast
    Seeing is Believing: Tilikum’s Lonely Life After Dawn,” by Colleen Gorman, The Orca Project
    Orca Trainer Saw Best of Keiko, Worst of Tilikum,” by Vivian Kuo, CNN

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