It looks like Tilikum, the captive Orca Whale may be in his last days, or even hours. This morning SeaWorld’s Facebook page reported that: “We are saddened to report that over the past few weeks, Tilikum’s health has been deteriorating.
Our teams are treating him with care and medication for what we believe is a bacterial infection in his lungs.” To make such an announcement indicates the end of his life is near.
According to Orcahome.de, Tilikum was about 2 years old when captured on November 9, 1983. He is probably the biggest captive orca, weighing in at 12,000 pounds and about 22.5 feet long.
Arguments will surely rage about whether his life of 35 years is an average lifespan for a male orca, but nobody can argue that he has not endured unending stress and misery since the day of his capture almost 33 years ago.
After he was ripped from his mother and family he was warehoused in a small cement tank for close to a year in Iceland before being flown to Sealand in Victoria, BC,. There he was placed with two females, Haida, a Southern Resident from J or L pod, and Nootka, believed to be a Transient, both caught from BC waters.
When Tilikum, a very young and traumatized Icelandic orca, did not perform a trick correctly, food was withheld from him and the older females, which led them to bite Tilikum, a complete foreigner to them, and rake the entire length of his body with their teeth. At night all three were forced by food deprivation into a tiny dark holding tank.
On February 1, 1991, when trainer Keltie Byrne fell into the pool, Tilikum dragged her and thrashed her to death, leading to the closure of Sealand, but not the end of his suffering. SeaWorld quickly bought him to provide sperm for its breeding program, and now 54 percent of SeaWorld’s orcas have his genes.
On July 7, 1999 Tilikum mauled and killed Daniel Dukes, an apparent overnight trespasser, who was found draped over Tilikum in the morning.
Then on February 24, 2010, Tilikum slowly dragged senior trainer Dawn Brancheau into the tank by her arm, where he bit and rammed her to death.
This death of a supposedly trusted trainer caught the attention of documentary filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who set out to discover why such a tragedy would suddenly happen, but whose film Blackfish revealed the whole sad and sordid history of capturing and holding orcas as commodities for entertainment revenue.
SeaWorld revenues and stock value dropped dramatically in 2014 after millions of viewers watched Blackfish, and show no sign of recovering to this day, putting the entire company’s future in doubt as top executives are replaced in vain attempts to return to profitability.
We can’t know what Tilikum was thinking or feeling when he killed his familiar trainer, but his actions may have been instrumental in bringing down the industry that caused his lifetime of suffering.