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On Wild Orcas, “Blackfish” and SeaWorld

I’m watching the documentary Blackfish on Netflix as I knit.

Lots of movies are sad, but this is very close to making me cry. Poor Tillikum. He’s the current “star” of Seaworld Orlando, but is rarely used for anything except breeding. He spends most of his time in a tank too small for him, and is brought out for the end of the show’s “Big Splash”.

Tillikum at Seaworld Orlando (2009)

My heart breaks for what he must be feeling: depression, loneliness, frustration, boredom. Orcas are at least as intelligent, if not more so, than humans.

Oh, and he’s been involved in the deaths of three people, but we’re not supposed to talk about that because Seaworld doesn’t want us to know just how badly they treat Tillikum. (If you’re upset and angered by the blog post about Tillikum’s lonely existence, you are NOT alone.)

February 20, 1991 – Keltie Byrne

July 6, 1999 – David P. Dukes

February 24, 2010 – Dawn Brancheau

This doesn’t indicate to me that Tillikum is a monster man-eater. If I were him, in that situation, I might be just a little bit annoyed by having to live in a bathtub for the rest of my life.

Wouldn’t you? 

I’m ashamed to have gone to Seaworld in Miami more than once when I was a kid. I really enjoyed it without knowing anything of what went on behind the scenes.

One of the Seaworld announcers is saying during a performance, “Up next are behaviours you won’t see anywhere but at Seaworld!”

Duh!!! Orcas were never meant to perform these ridiculous tricks in the wild, so of course this disgusting display is the only place to see them. 

What makes things even worse is that there’s no way out for these creatures. They’d starve to death if they were released back into the wild. I think there’s just one case of a female captive orca being successfully reintegrated into a wild pod, that of Springer. She was found orphaned and suffering from malnutrition, and after she was treated and got back up to a healthy weight, efforts were made to release her near her family. She was accepted back into her family pod!

I wonder if the more successful reintegration of females has to do with their gender. According to Blackfish, orca pods are matriarchal (something else I didn’t know), and the males are on the periphery. In captivity, Tilikum has been “raked” by teeth a lot by the females when he is put in the same pen, and he can’t do much to defend himself because he’s so damned big (12,000 lbs), and there is nowhere to escape to.

Maybe Springer’s acceptance and eventual ability to breed is because she’s higher up in the pecking order. So, according to Wikipedia, Springer’s story isn’t quite as bleak as Tillikum’s:

As of 2013, Springer has been seen with her relatives each year in Johnstone Strait, becoming the only whale in history to be successfully re-integrated into a wild pod after human intervention. In July 2013, 11 years after her rescue, Springer was spotted off the central British Columbia coast with a new calf. Not only is she back with her family, she now is unquestionably a contributing member of the population.

You can buy the DVD of Blackfish on the movie’s official site.

Two-year-old Springer in Puget Sound



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