Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Orca Kills Trainer at SeaWorld

Extremely tragic event: Whale kills trainer as horrified spectators watch. Tragic of course for the female trainer, and those that loved her. But also tragic because this didn't have to happen; but sadly, as news tells us all too frequently, animals in captivity do attack their trainers, and they attack because they're sentient, wild creatures that do not belong in artificial habitats, like a SeaWorld. Disturbing because this orca, named  Tilikum, (refered to as a "killer whale" to further exploit this sad event) was exhibiting behavior that signaled its distress, yet Tilikum was one of the orcas in the performance, as one audience member who witnessed the death described:
Skaggs said he heard that during an earlier show the whale was not responding to directions. Others who attended the earlier show said the whale was behaving like an ornery child.

And this:
Because of his size and the previous deaths, trainers were not supposed to get into the water with Tilikum, and only about a dozen of the park's 29 trainers worked with him. Brancheau had more experience with the 30-year-old whale than most, and was one of the park's most experienced trainers overall.
"We recognized he was different," Tompkins said.
Despite this, the orca continued to be kept in captivity (at this late date, what alternative would be better? The tragedy of Keiko proves that releasing an animal back into the wild isn't always the best choice either ) and continued to be used as entertainment. The "previous deaths" referred to include:
A SeaWorld spokesman said Tilikum was one of three orcas blamed for killing a trainer in 1991 after the woman lost her balance and fell in the pool at Sealand of the Pacific near Victoria, British Columbia. . . Tilikum was also involved in a 1999 death, when the body of a man who had sneaked by SeaWorld security was found draped over him. The man either jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water and died of hypothermia, though he was also bruised and scratched by Tilikum.
It's possible the whale was playing:
Steve McCulloch, founder and program manager at the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program at Harbor Branch/Florida Atlantic University, said the whale may have been playing, but it is too early to tell.
"I wouldn't jump to conclusions," he said. "These are very large powerful marine mammals. They exhibit this type of behavior in the wild.
Tompkins, the SeaWorld head trainer, said of the whale: "We have no idea what was going through his head."

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