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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!

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