Freedom for Tilikum

BRONX, NY- A few weeks ago I saw a documentary produced by CNN titled “Blackfish”. The documentary follows the story of Tilikum, the largest Orca (killer whale) held in captivity. Former Seaworld trainers share their experiences of working with Tilikum as well as how the orcas are really treated in the aquatic theme park. Long story short, it’s not pretty. Seaworld does not have the orcas for “conservation”, its all about business and marketing. Thats it. “Blackfish goes more into detail about how the orcas are mistreated, the physical and psychological damage being in captivity has done to them, and the drama that now follows Tilikum after three attacks.

Let me address that I prefer to use the word orca instead of killer whale. There is nothing “killer” about these whales at all. Yes, it is not smart to disturb a pod of orcas while they are hunting, but in reality these whales are social and have the same emotions as humans. There is no record of an orca ever killing a human in the WILD! They use echolocation, or the bouncing of sound waves, to find prey and talk to each other (as a sound engineer I find this amazing). The misinterpretation of the term “killer whale” came from the fact that orcas are toothed whales. Majority of whales have baleen. Orcas feed on seals, sea lions, fish, squid, birds, seals, dolphins and other whales, mostly the young ones. (information from wildlife explorer article).

Now getting back to “Blackfish” and why I support the documentary. As a child, I never had a good feeling about aquariums (and it is not because of my fear of sharks). The aquatic animals like penguins, walruses, and otter seemed depressed, and I always thought to myself “don’t the employees ever set them free?” At 12 years old I went on a family trip to Seaworld. Something didn’t feel right as soon as I stepped foot in the theme park. The whale tanks were under renovation the time I had gone, so I did not get to see the orcas up close, but I did see the Shamu show and I wasn’t really entertained. The tanks looked too small for the whales from where I was sitting. The only thing I bought from Seaworld was a book on Marine animals. After watching “Blackfish” ten years after i visited Seaworld, I can see why I had a horrid feeling about the place. The orcas are mistreated and depressed.

According to the documentary, orcas are taken away from their families in the wild by Seaworld. They pick out the calves and sometimes adult orcas are killed in the process. Tilikum was about 3 years old when he was separated from his pod. Life just went down hill for Tilikum after that. in his first home, Tilikum and two other orcas were put in a swimming pool and then locked up in steel boxes, in the dark, at night. Tilikum was already a big whale when he arrived at Sealand in Canada. This closed space trigger him to drown a part-time employee. Why is it that instead of setting Tilikum free after that incident, Seaworld bought him and the two other orcas? Life got a lot worse for Tilikum at Seaworld. He was deprived of food, the other orcas injured him, and he was too big to really swim in the tank. Imagine being in a bathtub for the rest of your life? This caused a psychological and physical effect on Tilikum. This led to two more horrible incidents at Seaworld. The most well known was the death of Dawn Brancheau

Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum (photo from
Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum (photo from

The first thing that crossed my mind is “why hasn’t Seaworld killed Tilikum after what happened to Dawn?” I am not for Seaworld killing Tilikum at all, and I am not saying it was Dawn’s fault either. I just found it strange that Tilikum was still alive. My question was answered in the documentary. Tilikum’s sperm is still valuable. All he is to Seaworld at this point is a sperm donor. That’s it! Tilikum is currently in a small tank swimming in circles at Seaworld alone. No right to freedom. I don’t find this fair. All he wants is freedom. I know I would go crazy in an environment that wasn’t meant for me. Physical damage along with the injuries from the other orcas is the collapsed dorsal fin.

Other orcas in captivity have suffered too. Calves born in captivity are separated from their mothers. Those orcas also have little space to swim. Tilikum wasn’t the only orca to go crazy. Another orca almost drowned her trainer. These orcas need to be free, especially Tilikum, and Seaworld should be ashamed of themselves. Former Seaworld trainers have spoken up about the treatment of the whales, Something needs to be done, Seaworld has tried to defend themselves after “Blackfish” was released:

Not the best defense, but I want my readers to be the judge on this. I believe Tilikum and the other orcas should be freed!


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