In nature, Orcas are known as social, intelligent creatures who roam the world’s oceans. They have families and language and culture.
When torn from these bonds, the animals endure what equates to “psychological torture” that can end up creating “psychotic” animals — at least that’s the story told in the chilling documentary “Blackfish” about Tilikum, a “serial” killer whale and SeaWorld animal attraction.
The publicity disaster that followed the movie’s release in 2013 was likely the turning point for SeaWorld. The company announced Monday, November 9 that it will phase out killer-whale shows in their San Diego amusement park by 2017, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
“Blackfish” shows how at SeaWorld, and parks like it, whales like Tilikum can become dangerous after years of detachment from their wild pods, confinement in small cement tanks, and separation from their calves.
Although SeaWorld plans to drop its California-based killer whale attraction, there’s been no mention of phasing out killer-whale shows at SeaWorld’s Orlando or San Antonio locations. (Tilikum currently lives at the Orlando SeaWorld park.)
Alana Kakoyiannis contributed to a previous version of this post.
To capture the orcas, whalers use aircraft and spotters to track them, divers in speedboats set off bombs herding them into coves, then large nets trap the young ones away from their mothers, making them easy to pluck from the ocean.
Orcas are a matriarchal society. Without a mother to protect and socialise him, Tilikum was hazed and dominated by two other females he shared a cargo size container space with.
During a performance, the trio dragged down and drowned a part-time trainer, Keltie Byrne, while audience members watched in terror.
After the accident, Sealand was closed for good. The whales were sold and shipped off to other marine mammal parks.
Tillikum ended up at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., where he was attacked and ostracized by other whales -- because of that he spent a lot of time in an isolation tank.
Even though he didn't get along with the other whales, Tilikum became a major attraction at the park.
In 1999, Daniel P. Dukes, a drifter, was found dead in Tillikum's tank at the park. Reports say he climbed into Tilikum's tank while the park was closed and that he drowned, but many trainers believe he was attacked and killed by the giant whale.
Even after his second kill, SeaWorld didn't remove Tilikum from shows or their Florida location. He still worked with trainers on a daily basis.
That is, until Dawn Brancheau, a seasoned trainer, was attacked by Tilikum in 2010. According to SeaWorld, Tilikum became attracted to Dawn's ponytail taking hold of it and drowning her.
Spectators witnessing the incident did not realise at first that this was anything out of the ordinary.
SeaWorld trainers eventually lured Tilikum with food into a smaller pool where he finally released her body.
After Brancheau's death, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OSHA) issued SeaWorld a $75,000 fine and banned humans from performing alongside orcas without a protective barrier.
SeaWorld went on the offensive against the movie, sending an email to film critics around the country pointing out supposed errors in the film.
Despite SeaWorld's objections about the movie, the spotlight on the ongoing captivity of 45 killer whales in captivity is brighter than ever. While there are no documented cases of orcas harming humans in the wild, numerous attacks and 6 deaths have occurred in captivity.
While San Diego may be changing their killer whale attraction, there has been no mention of phasing out killer-whale shows at SeaWorld's Orlando or San Antonio locations. Tilikum currently lives at the Orlando SeaWorld location.
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