Life Sentence

Behind-the-Scenes Viewpoint of a Captive Orca

On Wednesday, February 24, 2010 an orca named Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau, his trainer of 16 years, at SeaWorld Orlando. Tilikum is a large adult male. He was captured in the waters of Iceland, at the age of two, 30 years ago. In 1991 and 1999 he was involved in the death of two other people. In December 2009, Alexis Martinez died during a training session with an orca at the Loro Parque zoo on Tenerife.

It was reported that Dawn and Tilikum had just finished a very good public session. Tilikum had done spins for her and she had just finished petting and hugging him. Witnesses said that Tilikum, “looked like he was playing” and then “just took off really fast, came back around, bobbed up in the water and grabbed her. He was thrashing her around pretty good.” SeaWorld Orlando says they are going to keep Tilikum active in their show program. Animal activists are arguing that it is inhumane to keep orcas in such small enclosures. In the wild they swim all day and night.

I cannot talk to Tilikum without SeaWorld Orlando’s permission, but I did talk to another anonymous captured orca and tell him what happened and ask him what his thoughts are.

Anonymous male orca: “I know what that orca did. Everyone has been talking about it and they have been staying farther away from our enclosure than normal. People who did not fear us fear us now.

“Tilikum is like many others. We do tricks for them, and we have a sense that they are our guardians, and we care for them to some degree, but we dislike their species. Those of us that have lived in the wild know that how we live now is torture. The water burns our skin, the light damages our thoughts and our brains, the food does not nourish, and our muscles feel weak because we cannot work them like we would in the wild. The sounds in the waters here are clanking. They are not natural. We long for the sounds that we heard in the wild waters. The temperature of the water is wrong. It makes us feel abnormal and incautious. I know Tilikum suffers like we all do. Our brains and body do not work as they should.

“We see people only as our means to nourishment, and sometimes we do not get fed enough. They don’t feed us the variety that we would get in the wild and so our stomachs are always feeling uncomfortable. I can only speculate but I would imagine that they were not feeding Tilikum a well-balanced diet either. His stomach probably ached and his eyes hurt from the water and the light.

“His trainer may not have given him the right number of fish for a trick or she may have fed him smaller ones. They don’t understand that they are not feeding us enough of what we would eat in the wild. We are not healthy. This is a miserable life for us. I want to say to you that Tilikum probably feels bad about killing Dawn because he knew she loved him, but we don’t think like that. We think about survival of the fittest. We want to kill off anything that stops us from that. The reason more orcas do not kill the humans is because they are scared of the long pole that shocks and pokes. We all remember that. Humans were bad to us from the beginning. They keep us captured for reasons we do not understand. We should not be living in their environment. They should set us free.”


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