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Tilikum’s Son Dies at SeaWorld

Sumar the orca is latest victim of the big business of dolphins.

By Michael Mountain

Another killer whale has died prematurely at SeaWorld – the third this year.

According to SeaWorld, Sumar, an orca dolphin at the entertainment company’s San Diego seaquarium, began acting lethargic on Monday and was given antibiotics. Next day, he was dead.

Once again, SeaWorld calls this kind of death “mysterious.” That's their routine. Two years ago, when 2-year-old orca Halyn died at SeaWorld San Antonio, they called it “unexpected.” A few months earlier, when 14-year-old Taku died at the same seaquarium, it was also “unexpected.”

And it was the same when Taima died “unexpectedly” at SeaWorld Orlando earlier this year while giving birth. The calf was stillborn. 

Taima was, in fact, Sumar’s mother. His father is Tilikum, the orca who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau earlier this year. Tilikum is considered one of SeaWorld’s prime studs.

In fact, there’s nothing unexpected or mysterious about any of these deaths. They are routine at SeaWorld and other such facilities. While the average orca lives up to 60 years in the wild, three out of four orcas in captivity die before the age of 10. All “unexpectedly.”

Stress attacks

Nor are attacks on trainers nearly as rare as SeaWorld would have you believe. In fact, they’re quite common. In December 2009, trainer Alexis Martinez was drowned by orca Keto.

A few months earlier, in July 2009, a trainer was almost drowned by orca Wiki. In 2008, there were three violent incidents; two more in 2007; another two in 2006. And so on.

A typical report goes like this one, about Kasatka grabbed her trainer and dragged him to the bottom of the pool:

“A killer whale at SeaWorld bit a trainer's foot and took him to the bottom of the tank twice during the final afternoon performance yesterday, officials said. The 33-year-old trainer was alert and conscious when paramedics took him to UCSD Medical Center. The extent of his injury was not known, a SeaWorld spokesman said ... Kasatka grabbed the trainer's foot and dived to the bottom of the 36-foot tank. They surfaced less than a minute later, but she ignored other trainers' signals to draw her to the side. The orca dived a second time with the trainer for about a minute. ... other trainers worked a net between the two, and the trainer swam out. ... In a similar incident two or three weeks ago, a different whale dived with a different trainer's foot in its mouth, but obeyed commands to return to the side of the tank and let loose.”
San Diego Union Tribune -- November 30, 2006
 

Time to end it

When will this series of travesties be brought to an end? How many of these magnificent creatures have to die at these seaquariums? How many people have to be killed by their enraged captives before the whole sorry mess will be shut down?

In trying to talk his way out of this latest death, spokesman Dave Koontz trotted out the familiar SeaWorld tune, calling today a "very sad day" for trainers and other staff members at SeaWorld. “They love these animals," Koontz said. "They are devoted to these animals, and (the death of one is) like losing a member of their family."

But this is not love. And the dolphins are not these people's family. They have been torn away from their true family. Anyone involved in keeping orcas and other dolphins in captivity “loves” them like a slave master loves their slaves – forcing them to perform ridiculous antics in exchange for food. This isn't love; it’s pure exploitation.

The true life of dolphins

Real love would be giving back to these animals the life they were supposed to live.

In the ocean, orcas are family animals who travel thousands of miles together. The males are deeply attached to their mothers for their entire lives. Without these family bonds, they go literally insane. As Tilikum has. As others have. Sumar was taken from his mother when he was just a year old. He never saw her again.

SeaWorld doesn't just destroy the lives of individual orcas; they destroy entire families. This is love? Spare us your tears, trainers! These super-intelligent, self-aware beings are not your "family" and never were. They don't need your "love" or your "training." They need their own lives and their own families. They need to be left alone to live and love in peace.

Sumar didn’t die “mysteriously.” He died of depression and loneliness and stress ... after 12 years in a tank. You can't cure that with a dose of antibiotics. For dolphins, who are supreme masters of echo-location, living in a small round tank is like you or me being trapped for our entire lives in a hall of mirrors the size of a hot tub. You go crazy and you die.

It’s cruel and it’s criminal.

Here at Zoe, we’re in the middle of a special feature on Dolphins and People. Part One is about the amazing intelligence and culture of these animals. It may well be that they're the most intelligent creatures on earth.

Coming shortly: Part Two – the Big Business of Dolphins. And after that, we’ll be writing about the new campaign to bring this travesty to an end.

Please sign up to receive a brief email alert when Parts Two and Three are posted.

Together, we can do some real good for the dolphins!

Related Story
What SeaWorld Doesn’t Want You to Know
The Big Business of Dolphins

42 comments
Cnr1987
Cnr1987

They need to be let back in the wild, not kept in captivity.

Cnr1987
Cnr1987

They need to be let back in the wild, not kept in captivity.

Barbara
Barbara

You are correct in letting the public know that whales have complex and intense family bonds that last through their entire lives. They even develop family call signals unique to their pods. This has been studied, recorded and shown in the wild.

Barbara
Barbara

You are correct in letting the public know that whales have complex and intense family bonds that last through their entire lives. They even develop family call signals unique to their pods. This has been studied, recorded and shown in the wild.

Alena
Alena

I have been to Seaworld, Orlando but will not go back. Ever. The loneliness and sadness of orcas was clearly evident especially after the show. These poor things are on medication and anti-depressants just to live as long as possible. It's wrong! I feel for them and makes my heart sad that they are being exploited for our sake! They became our slaves - but they need to be freed. We don't own them. The ocean does...

Alena
Alena

I have been to Seaworld, Orlando but will not go back. Ever. The loneliness and sadness of orcas was clearly evident especially after the show. These poor things are on medication and anti-depressants just to live as long as possible. It's wrong! I feel for them and makes my heart sad that they are being exploited for our sake! They became our slaves - but they need to be freed. We don't own them. The ocean does...

Kate
Kate

So glad to be back on board with you, Michael. You've chosen what I'm sure is going to be a monumental task given the unsuspecting, unaware public's affinity for these "shows". I'm on board.

Kate
Kate

So glad to be back on board with you, Michael. You've chosen what I'm sure is going to be a monumental task given the unsuspecting, unaware public's affinity for these "shows". I'm on board.

MichaelMountain
MichaelMountain

Thank you all for these comments and insights. Please also see my new posting in News & Views -- latest things we've discovered about Sumar and his family.

MichaelMountain
MichaelMountain

Thank you all for these comments and insights. Please also see my new posting in News & Views -- latest things we've discovered about Sumar and his family.

Karen L.
Karen L.

Good to hear from you again, Michael. I am a professed animal lover but didn't realize until recently how harmful zoos, circuses, Sea World and the like are to animals. There are plenty of entertainment venues to experience without exploiting animals. I love to see these magnificent animals, but not out of their natural habitat. They deserve to be left alone. Thank you for stepping up the efforts to bring this information to everyone's attention. I pray we all will realize that showing kindness to animals will make this world a better place.

Karen L.
Karen L.

Good to hear from you again, Michael. I am a professed animal lover but didn't realize until recently how harmful zoos, circuses, Sea World and the like are to animals. There are plenty of entertainment venues to experience without exploiting animals. I love to see these magnificent animals, but not out of their natural habitat. They deserve to be left alone. Thank you for stepping up the efforts to bring this information to everyone's attention. I pray we all will realize that showing kindness to animals will make this world a better place.

Kim
Kim

My children have a deep respect for sea and land creatures because I try so hard to instill it in them. I am especially fond of dolphins and orcas & because of that so are they. They know that all wildlife is just that...born in the wild where they should remain. My oldest slipped her hand in mine just the other day when we went to the zoo & said momma we know how much happier & healthier they would be if they were at home with their families...why do people take them away. It's so sad that they make a buck off the torture of these wonderful creatures!

Kim
Kim

My children have a deep respect for sea and land creatures because I try so hard to instill it in them. I am especially fond of dolphins and orcas & because of that so are they. They know that all wildlife is just that...born in the wild where they should remain. My oldest slipped her hand in mine just the other day when we went to the zoo & said momma we know how much happier & healthier they would be if they were at home with their families...why do people take them away. It's so sad that they make a buck off the torture of these wonderful creatures!

Sonia Day
Sonia Day

The "poor us, we lost a beloved member of our family" routine is just about unbearable to me. Thanks for calling them out on their act. Maybe they will put themselves out of business, since they seem to be killing the whales faster than they can produce them.

Sonia Day
Sonia Day

The "poor us, we lost a beloved member of our family" routine is just about unbearable to me. Thanks for calling them out on their act. Maybe they will put themselves out of business, since they seem to be killing the whales faster than they can produce them.

Dennis
Dennis

The exploitation of animals by humans is ongoing and in general nobody cares. People don't care about animals except insofar as they feed, entertain or otherwise serve us. Animals are doomed as long as humans rule the earth.

Dennis
Dennis

The exploitation of animals by humans is ongoing and in general nobody cares. People don't care about animals except insofar as they feed, entertain or otherwise serve us. Animals are doomed as long as humans rule the earth.

Mary
Mary

Thank you Michael for sharing this info. I had no idea how many orca have died in captivity. When these things happen all you hear is the junk from the big three networks. People need to hear the whole, the real story. Again, thank you.

Mary
Mary

Thank you Michael for sharing this info. I had no idea how many orca have died in captivity. When these things happen all you hear is the junk from the big three networks. People need to hear the whole, the real story. Again, thank you.

Christina Dee
Christina Dee

Kelly's comment brings it all into focus. These animals' mental state and general well-being deteriorates at our hands, for our entertainment. They become a sliver, a shadow of what they truly are. Our underestimation of their intelligence as a species shows how pretentious we are as humans. I personally believe the trainer killings, whales battering themselves against each other and the other tragedies that occur with these enslaved creatures are their crazed efforts to end their own lives; out of misery, out of heartbreak, out of homesick.

Christina Dee
Christina Dee

Kelly's comment brings it all into focus. These animals' mental state and general well-being deteriorates at our hands, for our entertainment. They become a sliver, a shadow of what they truly are. Our underestimation of their intelligence as a species shows how pretentious we are as humans. I personally believe the trainer killings, whales battering themselves against each other and the other tragedies that occur with these enslaved creatures are their crazed efforts to end their own lives; out of misery, out of heartbreak, out of homesick.

Sharon
Sharon

Wild animals belong in the wild, they will never be truly happy until they are. they do not belong in zoos, or places like sea world or any other attraction, they need to live their lives as God intended them to be, wild and free.....

Sharon
Sharon

Wild animals belong in the wild, they will never be truly happy until they are. they do not belong in zoos, or places like sea world or any other attraction, they need to live their lives as God intended them to be, wild and free.....

Kelly
Kelly

My family was in the audience approx 20 yrs ago at the San Diego SeaWorld when 2 whales rammed each other as hard as they could. The tank went red with blood as we watched one whale die in front of us and the other damaged beyond repair listlessly retreat to the side of the pool. Everyone watching was traumatized! My sons are grown now but every now and then one of them will say "Do you remember that time at SeaWorld.......?" And we all get very quiet with our thoughts because trauma is so very easy to relive.

Kelly
Kelly

My family was in the audience approx 20 yrs ago at the San Diego SeaWorld when 2 whales rammed each other as hard as they could. The tank went red with blood as we watched one whale die in front of us and the other damaged beyond repair listlessly retreat to the side of the pool. Everyone watching was traumatized! My sons are grown now but every now and then one of them will say "Do you remember that time at SeaWorld.......?" And we all get very quiet with our thoughts because trauma is so very easy to relive.

ginny crist
ginny crist

I am so thankful for you, Micheal and all that you do to make a better life for the animals.

ginny crist
ginny crist

I am so thankful for you, Micheal and all that you do to make a better life for the animals.

Linda
Linda

I had no idea that in the wild orca's can live 60 years while captive 3 out of 4 die before reaching 10 yrs! People need to know - we need to boycott these shows!

Linda
Linda

I had no idea that in the wild orca's can live 60 years while captive 3 out of 4 die before reaching 10 yrs! People need to know - we need to boycott these shows!

Jennifer M.
Jennifer M.

I have gone to Seaworld only once in my life and have never had an interest to go back because of this. I hope we can but a stop to this practice and let the animals live the way they used to many years ago. Nice to see you again Michael! Thanks for contacting me.

Jennifer M.
Jennifer M.

I have gone to Seaworld only once in my life and have never had an interest to go back because of this. I hope we can but a stop to this practice and let the animals live the way they used to many years ago. Nice to see you again Michael! Thanks for contacting me.

Diane D.
Diane D.

What a great article, direct and to the point, and speaks volumes! So glad to see you back, Michael!

Diane D.
Diane D.

What a great article, direct and to the point, and speaks volumes! So glad to see you back, Michael!

Nancy L
Nancy L

For two years we lived in Florida - and went to see the whales perform--- and Michael you are so right -- those animals deserve their freedom - their intelligence is clearly noticeable in their routines --- but they deserve their freedom --- SeaWorld should be ashamed of what they are doing to these animals.

Nancy L
Nancy L

For two years we lived in Florida - and went to see the whales perform--- and Michael you are so right -- those animals deserve their freedom - their intelligence is clearly noticeable in their routines --- but they deserve their freedom --- SeaWorld should be ashamed of what they are doing to these animals.

Jill Wilson
Jill Wilson

Glad to reconnect with your efforts Michael - and Francis is right it's all about the profits. Such a sad story, but I look forward to reading about what we can do to help.

Jill Wilson
Jill Wilson

Glad to reconnect with your efforts Michael - and Francis is right it's all about the profits. Such a sad story, but I look forward to reading about what we can do to help.

Francis Battista
Francis Battista

Well said Michael. Thanks for bringing this madness to a wider audience. It's all about profits.

Francis Battista
Francis Battista

Well said Michael. Thanks for bringing this madness to a wider audience. It's all about profits.

Leenie
Leenie

I so agree, and I so hope we are wrong about animals being doomed as long as humans rule this world. About 20 yrs ago I attended a show at a now closed seaquarium, and as soon as the orcas and dolphins came into the tank, I burst into tears and told my husband they did not belong there and to get me outta there. He did, and I've never forgotten it. It was like they told me their feelings and I heard them.

Leenie
Leenie

I so agree, and I so hope we are wrong about animals being doomed as long as humans rule this world. About 20 yrs ago I attended a show at a now closed seaquarium, and as soon as the orcas and dolphins came into the tank, I burst into tears and told my husband they did not belong there and to get me outta there. He did, and I've never forgotten it. It was like they told me their feelings and I heard them.