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What to do about a killer killer whale


 
FAME Pictures/KEYSTONE Press

FAME Pictures/KEYSTONE Press

Real life is a good deal more complicated than it appears in the movies. Consider the 1993 blockbuster Free Willy, which tells the story of a young boy who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a six-ton killer whale and helps him escape from an unscrupulous amusement park owner. The tale not only inspired several sequels, but an outpouring of affection for the lead actor—Keiko the killer whale.

With fact following hard on the heels of fiction, children and adults around the world raised millions of dollars to free Keiko from a Mexican amusement park. He was moved to a special tank in Oregon and was given remedial training in how to behave like a real killer whale. After several years of instruction he was released off Iceland and made his way to Norway. Unfortunately, he remained entirely dependent on humans. He lived on herring fed to him by handlers and spent his days swimming with local children as a tourist attraction. When he died of pneumonia in 2003, $20 million had been wasted trying to turn him back into an authentic killer whale. There was no Hollywood ending for Keiko.

Keiko’s fate is worth remembering with another killer whale now in the news.

Last week, Tilikum, a 31-year-old killer whale at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., made headlines when he performed for the first time since causing the death of his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, last February. Brancheau’s ponytail got caught in Tilikum’s mouth and he dragged her into the pool and eventually drowned her.

This was not the first time Tilikum was responsible for a human death. In 1991, 20-year-old trainer Keltie Byrne died when she fell into a pool with Tilikum and two other killer whales at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria. They tossed her about until she drowned. And in 1999, a homeless man was found dead, draped over Tilikum’s back, after breaking in to his pool after hours.

Of four human deaths caused by captive killer whales since 1961, Tilikum is responsible for three of them. Should such an animal be performing for tourists at SeaWorld?

To begin, it seems reasonable to argue that large, intelligent, highly social mammals such as killer whales should not be removed from the wild in the first place. Both Canada and the U.S. have bans on the capture of killer whales dating back several decades. That said, 41 killer whales currently live at amusement parks around the world (two are in Canada). Most of them were bred in captivity.

In the wild, killer whales do not attack humans. In captivity, most attacks tend to be triggered by accidents such as Brancheau’s unfortunate ponytail and may in fact be attempts at play. Nonetheless, Tilikum is clearly predisposed to aggressive behaviour. In a statement following his first performance last week, SeaWorld claimed that performing is “an important component of [Tilikum’s] physical, social and mental enrichment.” But it requires wilful blindness to ignore his fatal track record. If Tilikum were a pit bull or circus lion he would have been euthanized by now.

We are not suggesting that Tilikum should be put down. (In fact, no one has.) And the popularity of killer whale shows at SeaWorld and elsewhere suggest they are not about to disappear any time soon. But Tilikum should no longer be part of any tourist show. He is a dangerous and damaged animal unsuited to public performance. Putting a multiple killer on display in this way seems gruesome and deranged. So where should he go?

There has only been one successful Free Willy-style transfer of a killer whale from captivity back to the ocean. Springer was an immature and sickly killer whale who lost her pod in 2002 and began to associate with humans in Puget Sound near Vancouver. In a joint U.S.-Canada operation, she was captured, nursed back to health and returned to the wild quickly and with a bare minimum of human contact.

Having spent decades in close proximity to people, Tilikum is clearly not a candidate for a happy return to free-range ocean life. And given the social nature of killer whales, it seems equally cruel to keep him in the isolation of a breeding pen for the rest of his days. With performing out of the question, perhaps the best that can be offered is that he be retired to an open sea pen to live out his days under the care of humans. This is how Keiko lived before his disastrous trip to Norway.

No longer a wild killer whale, but too dangerous to be allowed in public, it may be the best ending we can offer Tilikum.


 

What to do about a killer killer whale

  1. A sea pen is a good idea for Tilikum as it provides more room for him to move and get exercise. For clarification, there is not any credible evidence that Tilikum grabbed Dawn's pony tail. In fact, SeaWorld originally said (at the very first press conference) that she slipped and fell. The pony tail story was manufactured to present the story as more of an accident. Kind of like a large mouth bass striking a lure (as ridiculous as that sounds). There is, however, video evidence that it was a left arm grab and photographic evidence (from the underwater viewing area) that Tilikum used a roll maneuver to pull Dawn into the water. SeaWorld gets credit for effectively cultivating the myth of a pony tail grab. SeaWorld, like Loro Parque, and SeaLand of the Pacific before it, has a vested interest in presenting these deaths as horrible accidents. Once the public figures out that these animals make decisions and break from their training, it's game over. There was nothing accidental about it. This was a decision made by a free-thinking animal.
    http://theorcaproject.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/ex

  2. A sea pen is a good idea for Tilikum as it provides more room for him to move and get exercise. For clarification, there is not any credible evidence that Tilikum grabbed Dawn's pony tail. In fact, SeaWorld originally said (at the very first press conference) that she slipped and fell. The pony tail story was manufactured to present the story as more of an accident. Kind of like a large mouth bass striking a lure (as ridiculous as that sounds). There is, however, video evidence that it was a left arm grab and photographic evidence (from the underwater viewing area) that Tilikum used a roll maneuver to pull Dawn into the water. SeaWorld gets credit for effectively cultivating the myth of a pony tail grab. SeaWorld, like Loro Parque, and SeaLand of the Pacific before it, has a vested interest in presenting these deaths as horrible accidents. Once the public figures out that these animals make decisions and break from their training, it's game over. There was nothing accidental about it. This was a decision made by a free-thinking animal.
    http://theorcaproject.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/ex

  3. You REALLY need to get your facts straigt about Keiko before saying his was no Hollywood ending.

  4. You REALLY need to get your facts straigt about Keiko before saying his was no Hollywood ending.

  5. …not only that, but take a look at a map, before even beginning to say what and what, is near to this or that! Where Springer was found in PUGET SOUND….is much closer to TACOMA, WA than VANCOUVER !!! In fact (if that's what your gonna post), Puget Sound is a HUGE, inland body of water running from Olympia, WA (The State Capital)……North to SEATTLE!

  6. …not only that, but take a look at a map, before even beginning to say what and what, is near to this or that! Where Springer was found in PUGET SOUND….is much closer to TACOMA, WA than VANCOUVER !!! In fact (if that's what your gonna post), Puget Sound is a HUGE, inland body of water running from Olympia, WA (The State Capital)……North to SEATTLE!

  7. Well…I think it is a good idea to let him living in an open sea pen. According to the researchs, he isn't a good candidate to be released. So It's a fair way. He will have the chance to feel free and be himself. There won't be the public pressure, work pressure and he won't lose us, humans, that he depends so much. I think its the best we can't do now. We could also try to release, but it will be just about research. We can't decide or have the answer: he wants to live with us or he doesn't want. In the first place, it was our mistake to take him from the ocean, and to undo that, we need to do it just for him. We can't go any further if we don't do the researchs, I know! But we need to look what is the priority.
    Tillikum was clear enough that he isn't good. We don't need to relive the same mistakes to learn. Please!

  8. Well…I think it is a good idea to let him living in an open sea pen. According to the researchs, he isn't a good candidate to be released. So It's a fair way. He will have the chance to feel free and be himself. There won't be the public pressure, work pressure and he won't lose us, humans, that he depends so much. I think its the best we can't do now. We could also try to release, but it will be just about research. We can't decide or have the answer: he wants to live with us or he doesn't want. In the first place, it was our mistake to take him from the ocean, and to undo that, we need to do it just for him. We can't go any further if we don't do the researchs, I know! But we need to look what is the priority.
    Tillikum was clear enough that he isn't good. We don't need to relive the same mistakes to learn. Please!

  9. Keiko was on his last days of life when they moved him from his death trap tank in Mexico. His life was surely saved by his transfer and rehab. I believe his story would have been a true success if his original pod had been located so he could be released into it. I don't know the future for any orcas in captivity and each one has it's own issues regarding seapen or release, but I AM extremely frustrated by people using Keiko's story as a reason to NOT examine retirement for captive orcas. It's like saying "well, that abused child never properly resocialized back into society and ended up dying of it's ailments so we shouldn't waste our time saving any more abused children" …it's beyond absurd.

  10. Keiko was on his last days of life when they moved him from his death trap tank in Mexico. His life was surely saved by his transfer and rehab. I believe his story would have been a true success if his original pod had been located so he could be released into it. I don't know the future for any orcas in captivity and each one has it's own issues regarding seapen or release, but I AM extremely frustrated by people using Keiko's story as a reason to NOT examine retirement for captive orcas. It's like saying "well, that abused child never properly resocialized back into society and ended up dying of it's ailments so we shouldn't waste our time saving any more abused children" …it's beyond absurd.

  11. When will the complaints ever end?! He needs to be set free, he can't be in shows, he can't be banned from shows, he needs to be in a sea pen… blah blah blah, sea pen is just another form of captivity WITHOUT his pod at SWF. A sea pen will invite more idiots to hop on in the water with him, just like people did with Keiko. Make up your minds, people.

  12. Keiko was in a different situation from tillikum's. Keiko was always alone, no interacting with another killer whales. Maybe, thats why he found it difficult to interpret other killer whales behaviour and kept distant from the group. He was a good example for us to realize that is possible! That a cetacean can be relase, like other researches conclue.
    He didn't die because he was released, but because he got sick.
    Certainly, a child would really be good at resocializing, but an adult that has ideas already constructed and used to live in a way . He MAYBE couldn't fit it.
    But MAYBE. Yes! But when not, it doesn't mean we need to stop trying. We are human, we don't give up easely!
    Why is easer for a child to learn something and the same thing for an adult we know it's not so easy?
    the thing is…we should try. But unless we are sure that he won't depend on us for ANYTHING! like a wild animal that don't even know our existence.
    We can't compare keiko's death to tillikum's relase. Because keiko was a success! He just got sick and didn't have time to feel the pleasure to really enjoy in a group.
    He got sick. It could be everywhere!! Also in the park.
    People are just analyzing other point of view. It's good to show all the possibilities. So we see other possibilites to reconsider or to be more sure that the point we chose, was the right choice…

  13. Keiko was in a different situation from tillikum's. Keiko was always alone, no interacting with another killer whales. Maybe, thats why he found it difficult to interpret other killer whales behaviour and kept distant from the group. He was a good example for us to realize that is possible! That a cetacean can be relase, like other researches conclue.
    He didn't die because he was released, but because he got sick.
    Certainly, a child would really be good at resocializing, but an adult that has ideas already constructed and used to live in a way . He MAYBE couldn't fit it.
    But MAYBE. Yes! But when not, it doesn't mean we need to stop trying. We are human, we don't give up easely!
    Why is easer for a child to learn something and the same thing for an adult we know it's not so easy?
    the thing is…we should try. But unless we are sure that he won't depend on us for ANYTHING! like a wild animal that don't even know our existence.
    We can't compare keiko's death to tillikum's relase. Because keiko was a success! He just got sick and didn't have time to feel the pleasure to really enjoy in a group.
    He got sick. It could be everywhere!! Also in the park.
    People are just analyzing other point of view. It's good to show all the possibilities. So we see other possibilites to reconsider or to be more sure that the point we chose, was the right choice…

  14. Tillikum absolutely must be retired to a seapen. He has been imprisoned for far too long and would find it difficult to reintegrate into Orca society. But, this isn't to say that it is impossible. If he could be made gradually less dependent on human help whilst in the seapen, then there would be the possibility for total release.
    SeaWorld should retire all their animals to seapens, dolphins included. It is not right to hold these incredible animals captive. It is the equivalent of holding a human in a single room for the rest of their lives. Thinking about that, it is very hard to blame the whales for their actions. Anyone would be angry if they were being held against their will with no proper family or social structure.

  15. Tillikum absolutely must be retired to a seapen. He has been imprisoned for far too long and would find it difficult to reintegrate into Orca society. But, this isn't to say that it is impossible. If he could be made gradually less dependent on human help whilst in the seapen, then there would be the possibility for total release.
    SeaWorld should retire all their animals to seapens, dolphins included. It is not right to hold these incredible animals captive. It is the equivalent of holding a human in a single room for the rest of their lives. Thinking about that, it is very hard to blame the whales for their actions. Anyone would be angry if they were being held against their will with no proper family or social structure.

  16. Truth is it doesn't matter where an orca is, if there are no orcas for him to socialize and integrate with then that will not be the greatest quality of life for him b/c orcas are very social. Tillikum would not be accepted by another pod, we know enough of orca behavior and wild pod dynamics and past experiences to conclude this. Also fyi on Springer, she is lucky to be even allowed to travel with the pod she's with, her re-introduction was rough and far from easy, she got beat up, and perhaps the only reason it worked out in the end was b/c she was young and she had an advantage.

  17. So sure you can put Tillikum in a seapen, still give him human attention, (and So sure you pray to god that the public doesn't bug him), but what good does that do for him? Does that little extra fact that he would actually be in the ocean make a difference? NO….just b/c an orca is in the ocean doesn't make it happy. Would putting him in a seapen that has more room than what he currently has change his behavior? Well duh any new environment that's bigger and interesting will do that. The bottomline is Tillikum needs more space, more time with the other orcas, and if SeaWorld could do that by build another "retirement" tank that is large and deep, and let Tillikum have companionship with other orcas, then that would be a good way for him to live out the remainder of his years.

  18. So sure you can put Tillikum in a seapen, still give him human attention, (and So sure you pray to god that the public doesn't bug him), but what good does that do for him? Does that little extra fact that he would actually be in the ocean make a difference? NO….just b/c an orca is in the ocean doesn't make it happy. Would putting him in a seapen that has more room than what he currently has change his behavior? Well duh any new environment that's bigger and interesting will do that. The bottomline is Tillikum needs more space, more time with the other orcas, and if SeaWorld could do that by build another "retirement" tank that is large and deep, and let Tillikum have companionship with other orcas, then that would be a good way for him to live out the remainder of his years.

  19. I hope next article that is written is researched better than this one. Tilikum didnt grab her ponytail, nor did it "slip" into his mouth. That was pure SW propaganda to defer from the facts..Tilikum grabbed her intentionally by the arm, and unfortunately killed her. This magnificent orca is under extreme stress constantly. He acted out like any sentient creature would. For what he has endured, he has behaved pretty well, conssidering what an orca his size is capable of. SW cant make money off him if he is released to a pen. Humans are the most selfish creatures created.

  20. I hope next article that is written is researched better than this one. Tilikum didnt grab her ponytail, nor did it "slip" into his mouth. That was pure SW propaganda to defer from the facts..Tilikum grabbed her intentionally by the arm, and unfortunately killed her. This magnificent orca is under extreme stress constantly. He acted out like any sentient creature would. For what he has endured, he has behaved pretty well, conssidering what an orca his size is capable of. SW cant make money off him if he is released to a pen. Humans are the most selfish creatures created.

  21. He can't be released without going through the sea pen first so he learns all the things he need.
    Any way…We can't put him in the ocean and say goodbye. If he is going to be in a sea pen forever, we don't know. But for now, it is his chance to live something new for his live. Months later (when he learns everything and don't need us anymore) we can talk about the next step: Open ocean!

  22. He can't be released without going through the sea pen first so he learns all the things he need.
    Any way…We can't put him in the ocean and say goodbye. If he is going to be in a sea pen forever, we don't know. But for now, it is his chance to live something new for his live. Months later (when he learns everything and don't need us anymore) we can talk about the next step: Open ocean!

  23. Even if all went well with his rehabilitation you still face the issue of him being alone, and no matter how more fulfilling and stimulating his new environment may be in a seapen scenario, he's still going to want companionship but he's going to have no where to get it except for humans. This alone would mean he'd have to be kept in a seapen for the rest of his life because he knows that people mean food and attention and they won't set him loose so he can go terrorize the nearest shoreline. No gov will allow it. And he can't integrate into another pod, its just not going to happen and even if his real pod was known, the chances would be slim to none. It's important to take into consideration orca behavior and their pod dymanics and social structure, wild whales are not all "open doors" with other orcas. Tillikum deserves to spend more time with the orcas he already does know, because they've been the closest thing to a family to him for the past 15+ years.

  24. Even if all went well with his rehabilitation you still face the issue of him being alone, and no matter how more fulfilling and stimulating his new environment may be in a seapen scenario, he's still going to want companionship but he's going to have no where to get it except for humans. This alone would mean he'd have to be kept in a seapen for the rest of his life because he knows that people mean food and attention and they won't set him loose so he can go terrorize the nearest shoreline. No gov will allow it. And he can't integrate into another pod, its just not going to happen and even if his real pod was known, the chances would be slim to none. It's important to take into consideration orca behavior and their pod dymanics and social structure, wild whales are not all "open doors" with other orcas. Tillikum deserves to spend more time with the orcas he already does know, because they've been the closest thing to a family to him for the past 15+ years.

  25. Well most of your facts were wrong, but fortunately have been corrected in the comments section.

  26. Well most of your facts were wrong, but fortunately have been corrected in the comments section.

  27. GREAT IDEA Take him away from the only other orca family he knows transfer him again into an unknown area with unknown people.. God your all idiots. Tilikum will live and be in seaworld till his deaht. Thats all. I for one am happy he's back.

  28. GREAT IDEA Take him away from the only other orca family he knows transfer him again into an unknown area with unknown people.. God your all idiots. Tilikum will live and be in seaworld till his deaht. Thats all. I for one am happy he's back.

  29. Rethinking…I think it's a GOOD Idea too! Well…if he's going to a sea pen to be alone.. maybe it isn't sooo a good..
    Great it would be if his "family" would go with him to the sea pen, but its not the case, so it might be better for him to stay there.
    But one thing won't change: he will, maybe, show behaviour problems. We can't forget that this already happened before, even when he was being in the company of other killer whales.
    I don't know if there's a way that will solve a problem without arising others. But I know, here, we are trying our best. We hope who will decide it will do the same!

  30. Rethinking…I think it's a GOOD Idea too! Well…if he's going to a sea pen to be alone.. maybe it isn't sooo a good..
    Great it would be if his "family" would go with him to the sea pen, but its not the case, so it might be better for him to stay there.
    But one thing won't change: he will, maybe, show behaviour problems. We can't forget that this already happened before, even when he was being in the company of other killer whales.
    I don't know if there's a way that will solve a problem without arising others. But I know, here, we are trying our best. We hope who will decide it will do the same!

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