In Memoriam -
The Orca Tilikum
Tilikum, the orca, was captured in 1983 from his mother's side near Reykjavik, Iceland, when he was two years old. Taken by Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, he was transported to Sea World, Orlando, Florida, in January 1992 where he was when he died.
What a sad life it was. When Tilikum was young, he was described as a gentle whale with a tremendous personality and willing to please. But that was to change over the years with his mistreatment and no thought for his needs by his captors.
It began with his being placed with two female orcas. One of them was named Katsaka. She attacked him and left rake marks on his body until he was moved away from her into a smaller pen.
No consideration was given for different whales not speaking the same dialect or being from different parts of the world. Tilikum performed with a whale that had been trained. When Tilikum did not do the requested "trick," both of the whales were punished by being deprived of food. The trained whale became sufficiently frustrated to rake Tilikum and left him with bleeding tooth marks.
Sealand was a big net pen, and the management was afraid that someone could get in at night, cut the net and set the whales free. The decision was made to put three killer whales in a dark 20 by 30-foot floating steel container at nighttime. Imagine being in an environment where the width of the container was less than twice the length of the whale's body, whereas in the wild he would swim 100 miles a day with his family by his side.
In 1991, where he was kept at Sealand,Ontario, Canada, trainer Keltie Byrne was killed. She fell into the pool where there were three orcas, including Tilikum. They began harassing trainer Bryne in front of an audience, and it led to her death by drowning. As the two female orcas began tossing Bryne around, Tilikum joined in.
After this incident Tilikum was transferred to SeaWorld, Orlando, Florida on January 9, 1992. While other killer whales have interaction with humans,Tilikum was given little opportunity at either park for socialization.
On July 6, 1999, 27-year-old Daniel P. Dukes, was found dead draped over Tilikum's back. Dukes had visited SeaWorld the previous day, stayed after the park closed, and evaded security to enter the orca tank. An autopsy found numerous wounds, contusions, and abrasions covering his body that were caused by Tilikum. The autopsy concluded that Dukes' cause of death was drowning. No drugs or alcohol were found in Dukes' body. Sealand of the Pacific closed soon afterward.
One marine mammal scientist speculated that in both deaths, Tilikum regarded the visit of humans into his tank as the presence of a new play thing.
He was a magnificent and large orca, the largest in captivity. He grew to be 22.5 feet long and weighed about 12,500 pounds. His pectoral fins were 7 feet long, his fluke curled under and his 6.5 dorsal fin was collapsed entirely to his left side due to lack of exercise.
But the killing of Dawn Brancheau in 2010 led to his undoing. After the Dinner with Shamu show, she was playing with him but not in the water. She gave him attention and liked him. He pulled her into the water by her arm and proceeded to force her down every time she tried to come up for a breath. It's terrible to watch.
According to one person who viewed the situation, he had been missing cues and not performing as expected. Did no one at SeaWorld recognize that this was a very frustrated whale and take him out of the shows for a few days?
They didn't euthanize him after this incident; after all he was their stud. He sired 22 calves some by artificial insemination. He was their Sperm Bank who was milked regularly for his semen by trainers.
His punishment was to place him in a tank by himself for a year where he hung motionless and no one was allowed in the water with him. Can you imagine what this would do to a social animal like an orca? SeaWorld took an orca that was innocent and likeable and ruined his life all for the sake of money.
The saddest thing I read about his death was that he died alone. If he only knew that millions of people cared about his welfare.
Thank you for reading this newsletter. With the threats to remove parts of the Endangered Species Act, we must be engaged constantly. Donations are gratefully received.
Maris Sidenstecker I
President, Save The Whales
501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
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