British columnist Alexander Cockburn compares Tilikum the orca to Spartacus, and calls him “the slave whale who chose to fight back.”
Tilikum attacked his trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando and killed her.
This magnificent animal was captured and torn from his family in 1982 and carried off to a theme park on Vancouver Island in Canada.
“There he met his fellow slaves, Nootka and Haida,” says Cockburn. “Day after day in slave school they learned their tricks. Day after day, they did their act for the paying customers.”
And then, on February 20, 1991, the three orcas struck back at their captors. After Keltie Byrne, a 20-year-old part-time trainer, slipped while riding on the head of one of the orcas, Tilikum, Nootka and Haida took turns in dragging her around the pool while other trainers tried to catch her on a pole with a hook. But the orcas would not let the trainers get near her. Even after they’d drowned her, they wouldn’t let anyone near her for another two hours.
This was Tilikum’s first act of revolt.
Soon after, Tilikum and Nootka were shipped off to Orlando, Florida, where Nootka died two years later at the age of 13. Orcas in the wild normally live into their 50s and 60s. Haida and her calf Ky were sent off to SeaWorld, San Antonio, where Haida died in 2001. Three years later, Ky, who had clearly learned the spirit of rebellion, almost killed his trainer.
Back in Orlando, Tilikum killed a second human – apparently a hapless man who had climbed into SeaWorld during the night and jumped in Tilikum’s pool.
And now, again, in his late twenties, Tilikum has struck again – this time against trainer Dawn Brancheau.
How long will it be before the slave masters give up on their murky business, and, like the Coliseum of Ancient Rome, their gladiatorial rings lie in ruins?
Read Cockburn’s article here.
And read this excerpt from the upcoming new book by Jason Hribal, about how animals try to fight back against their trainers at zoos and marine parks. Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance will be published this fall (2010).
What Was Tilikum Thinking? “Let’s see what kind of answers might emerge when we view Tilikum’s psyche through the lens of psychology and neuroscience,” says Gay Bradshaw of The Kerulos Center.