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SeaWorld's profit from captive animals leads to problems

Staff Columnist

Published: Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08

On Feb. 22, Tilikum  the killer whale pulled Dawn Brancheau, an experienced SeaWorld trainer, into the water and held her under long enough to drown her. 

The incident took place in front of a crowd of spectators. Since Brancheau's untimely death, SeaWorld has been taking time to investigate the incident as well as honor their fallen comrade.  But one question remains.  What will happen to Tilikum? Orca whales have a dangerous size and aggressive nature. The real culprit may not be Tilikum, but instead the exploitation of Tilikum and the exploiters themselves, SeaWorld. 

It is hard to blame Tilikum, who has been incarcerated since he was captured in 1983 near Iceland.  It must seem pretty obvious to assume that it would be a pretty traumatic experience for a 12,300 pound whale to be taken out of his natural environment where he could swim up to 100 miles a day.  Tilikum was put in a small pen in Canada where he had a role in a trainer's death. That is when he was transferred to SeaWorld.  Tragedy struck again when a man who had snuck into SeaWorld at night had been found the next day dead on Tilikum's back.  Now, Tilikum has killed an experienced trainer. 

There is no doubt that Tilikum has made quite a bit of money for SeaWorld.  But it is unfortunate that Tilikum has now spent more than 25 years trapped performing for SeaWorld visitors.  Does any animal deserve to be in captivity for so long?  What gives SeaWorld the right to continue to hold their animals captive for such a long period of time?  Many zoos claim that scientific research is the basis for the captivity.  But Tilikum's main job is to splash kids with water and do tricks.  I wouldn't call that science.

SeaWorld is all about the attraction The experience is what they sell and that is how they make a profit.  Regardless of SeaWorld's efforts to promote animal rights, their main goal is to make a profit.  Tilikum is part of SeaWorld's profit-making scheme and that is why they are still not willing to let him go.

He has also produced 17 calves, all of which have also been used as exploited animals throughout the world.  It is completely unethical that SeaWorld continues to use this whale. Not only is this unethical, but in light of recent events and prior incidents, it seems that it would be common sense to let Tilikum go free. 

SeaWorld has a couple of options.  The best option would be to send Tilikum to a coastal sanctuary.  Brazil and Chile are only two countries that have recently developed these sanctuaries for whales and other animals such as Tilikum.  The other option would be to keep him at SeaWorld where he will forever be associated with the accidental death of the trainer as well as continue to be unfairly held for silly purposes. 

Tilikum has spent more than a quarter-century as part of a system of exploited animals that has gone too far, and now has resulted in yet another human life lost.  It is time to put restrictions on this profit-making system.  Whales such as Tilikum should be only allowed to spend up to 10 years at a place like SeaWorld, and then sent back to a wild habitat or a coastal sanctuary.  It is common sense.  People's lives as well as animals' can be helped.  The reality is that some killer whales kill, so let's give them the right to live free and away from humans. 


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4 comments Log in to Comment

Mon Apr 19 2010 05:21
whales arent emotionally attached to "caretakers" who exploit them and make them do rediculous tricks. kieko WAS able to live without the assistance of humans, and only depended on humans after they OFFERED him food. Kieko was actually shown to be doing much better in the wild. all of his abrasions healed and he gained a substantial amount of weight. no matter how long a whale is kept in captivity, a shoebox of a tank will NEVER be a reasonable home. Shame to anyone who supports the exploitation of animals for profit.
Thu Mar 4 2010 16:41
You can’t release a human-dependent animal and expect it to become wild again. It has been proven that killer whales held in captivity for an extended period of time (more than a year) cannot be returned to their natural habitat because they can no longer survive on their own, nor can they be re-taught those skills necessary to their survival. More than $23 Million dollars and 7 years were spent trying to "free" Keiko (the star of "Free Willy") and return him to his natural habitat but it was a failure! In truth Keiko was never "freed," as some animal activists like to claim. He tried freedom on for size for a few weeks but did not, or could not take to it and had to rely on human caretakers for food and social companionship until his death in 2003. While we as humans might find it appealing to free a long-term captive animal, the survival and well-being of the animal will be severely negatively impacted by doing so.

I firmly believe that the killer whales currently residing in dolphinariums and marine parks such as SeaWorld should STAY where they are at. I think releasing a human-dependent animal, and thus forcing it to avoid the human contact it has grown to know, love, and essentially rely on is in itself cruel. It is like being thrown out of your home and disowned by those you love and are emotionally attached to. At the same time the whales lack the skills necessary for their survival and are unable to rejoin their wild counterparts in the ocean. They end up stuck between the two worlds without a firm place in either, which seems like a very lonely existence for such social creatures as killer whales. Keiko died a lonely, slow agonizing death from acute puemonia brought on by malnutrition. Do we as supposedly compassionate human beings really want to repeat that mistake and sentence other presently held captive killer whales to the same fate??

The present day "whale sanctuaries" that you referenced are nothing more than areas of open ocean designated by lines on a map where "commercial whaling" is illegal. That's it, nothing more! There are no fences or physical barriers around these areas to protect or contain the animals in them, nor are there people there to care for them. Releasing a killer whale in a whale sanctuary IS releasing it to the wild! If you have ever watched the Animal Planet series "Whale Wars" you might be interested to know that it is filmed IN the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary where Japan kills hundreds of whales (including some endangered species) every year under the guise of "scientific research" which is really just a cover for their commercial whaling operations. If people are interested in "saving a whale", perhaps they should focus on stopping this slaughter, rather than worrying about the few killer whales being kept in captivity.

As to the profit that SeaWorld makes, are you serious?? Are you aware of the MILLIONS they donate to other organizations involved in animal conservation, research and protection, as well as the work they themselves do in these areas? What about their work rescuing and rehabilitating stranded and injured whales, and other animals, like manatees so they can be returned to the wild? Where would some of the non-profit organizations be that are involved in working to save many of the "wild" animals that inhabit our world without the donations and support they receive from SeaWorld? Do you seriously believe, especially in our present economy, that the people, who are clamoring for the release of all killer whales, will donate amounts equal to what SeaWorld provides if it no longer exists? Were it not for the work that SeaWorld has done over the years and the knowledge that they gained through keeping captive killer whales, and the highly endangered manatees, then we would not even have the knowledge or skills necessary to save any of their "wild" counterparts when they become stranded, sick or injured. I sincerely hope they make BILLIONS in profits so that they can continue supporting various non-profit organizations involved in the research and rescue/rehabilitation operations of wild animals around the world.

Concerned Parent
Tue Mar 2 2010 11:48
Very good thoughts; however, once they're taken from the wild they lose their social connections and survival skills, so they would always be handicapped that way. Being born into an artificial environment doesn't change their need for wide open spaces, the sea vs. a sterile pool, or the chance to have a normal family live, migrate, etc. They simply should not be in captivity, period. Retire those already there to a sanctuary and stop breeding or capturing others. This kind of entertainment is archaic and cruel.
Tue Mar 2 2010 11:08
They shouldn't have to spend 10 minutes enduring this cruelty. Not 10 years. And, certainly not 30+!

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