Whale Attack Suggests Issues with Captivity

Liz De La Torre

With killer whales performing tricks and ‘playing’ with trainers, Florida’s Shamu show at SeaWorld has drawn various tourists to check out the greatest attraction at the park, something that has made the park skyrocket to popularity. On Feb. 24, the Shamu noontime show was the subject of mass hysteria and commotion, but not for the reason it has always been. A shocked audience witnessed the 12,000 lb. orca attack and kill 40 year-old veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau. “He just took off like a bat out of you know what, took off really fast and came back around to the glass, jumped up, and grabbed the trainer by the waist and started shaking her violently,” eyewitness Victoria Biniak said. People in attendance from earlier shows attest to the behavior of the 22-ft orca equating to that of an “ornery child” and languidly following directions.

FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 file photo, a killer whale raises its head out of the water during the first show since an orca killed a trainer at the SeaWorld theme park in Orlando, Fla. The latest killer whale involving Tilikum at SeaWorld attack raises anew the question of whether some animals, especially the biggest ones, have any business being tamed. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, Pool, File)

Apparently, this is not the first time Tilikum has been involved in fits of disturbance. In fact, the whale has been implicated in two other human deaths. The 30 year-old whale was connected with the 1991 death of another trainer in Canada’s Sealand of the Pacific as well as the death of a naked man whose body was discovered floating on the whale’s back in 1999. Tilikum’s attack on Brancheau has been the most recent to join the ranks of other animals either severely injuring or killing trainers and handlers.

These animal attacks have suggested the qualms about captivity and whether or not it is suitable to enforce detainment with all the dangers involved. Many also question the parading of animals around as exploited entertainment. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Humane Society said, “Orcas are simply too big, too complex, and too intelligent to be adequately accommodated in captivity.” Being that killer whales like Tilikum are sophisticated predators and have significant intelligence, it elicits the matter of large animals not being able to familiarize with a small environment, a fact that can lead to boredom and violent acts.

On the contrary, former SeaWorld head trainer Thad Lacinak says that keeping animals in captivity is necessary for educating people as well as protecting these large animals. He says that, unlike the Discovery Channel, learning about animals includes bringing them to the public, giving a different, more wholesome experience than “observing through a pair of binoculars.” “We know for a fact that people do not learn in static conditions. They learn from these animals when they are entertained by them.

That’s just how people learn. They don’t learn when they’re bored. They have a greater appreciation of the animals when they walk out.”  As of now, SeaWorld will keep Tilikum until management decides what they will do with the orca.