by Melissa Wood
Tilikum, a massive 22.5-foot-long orca whale living in captivity at Sea World Orlando, has been involved in three fatal incidents. The most notorious of these, the death of 40-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau, occurred on Feb. 24, 2010.
Brancheau’s death garnered copious amounts of media attention and sparked numerous debates about the humanity of keeping killer whales captive.
Humans began capturing and putting orcas on display in the 1960s. In 1985 a female named Kalina became the first captive-born orca to survive more than a few days.
Tilikum, captured at the age of 2, off the coast of Iceland, has been living in captivity since November 1983. But since Brancheau’s death, Tilikum has been kept in almost total isolation from the other killer whales captive at Sea World Orlando, according to its representatives.
Killer whales are social animals. In the wild, killer whales move in pods, traveling up to 100 miles a day, sleeping and hunting together.
In captivity, killer whales lack the stimulation and space available in the wild. Tilikum spends most of his time in a pool 100 feet by 50 feet and 35 feet deep, according to Sea World representatives. That’s an unfortunate change from the oceans that cover 70 percent of the planet he once called home.
Many of the whales’ pools, including Tilikum’s, lack the shade and depth needed to protect them from the blaring Orlando sun.
In March 2011 Tilikum returned to performing in Sea World’s killer whale shows. He typically performs four or five times a day in the 35-minute shows. He spends the rest of his time floating listlessly in his pool with no toys and limited human contact.
In captivity, whales forget how to forage for their food and ward off predators. They forget how to be wild animals. Thus, Tilikum, now 30 years old, is doomed to live out the rest of his life in captivity because he will not survive if integrated back into the wild. Although, with the reduced life expectancies of killer whales in captivity, it is likely Tilikum won’t live much longer.
There has never been a recorded killing of a human by killer whales in the wild.
Most of the knowledge scientists have about killer whales comes from studying them in the wild. No useful information can come from studying an animal removed from its habitat, its family and its normal hunting grounds.
The stress of captivity harms the whales’ psyche. No good can come from keeping such large, wild animals pent up in unnatural habitats.
Society needs to stop using these creatures for entertainment and allow them to live freely in the wild without human interference.
Melissa Wood is a junior journalism and mass communication major at St. Bonavenure University.