What has become of Tilikum?
Since the tragic incident on February 24th 2010, when trainer Dawn Brancheau was dragged into the water and killed by Tilikum, the fate of this unfortunate orca has been uncertain. Early responses from SeaWorld executives indicated that the future of Tilikum was secure, that they were committed to maintaining the orca in captivity, and that he may even perform again. Considering his value as a breeding stud to SeaWorld’s captive breeding program, it is not difficult to imagine the motivation for keeping Tilikum around, despite his track record and liability as a performing orca.
Early reports from visitors that were able to catch a brief view of Tilikum as he was sequestered in the back pools of SeaWorld Orlando revealed an orca in seemingly permanent isolation. Although unable to monitor his activities on a continual basis, the extended snapshots of his post-tragedy life include infrequent interactions with trainers who now keep their distance and offer very little tactile or other stimulation for the lone orca.
Although reports from SeaWorld suggest that Tilikum is moved between the various pools or free to access other pool areas (there are 7 at SeaWorld Orlando), reports suggest he spends the vast majority, if not all of his time, on his own. More recent reports suggest that little has changed over the course of the last year (see the report of a recent visit to SeaWorld by a visitor posted at The Orca Project). Tilikum apparently spends his days in isolation, rotating between shallow pool ‘E’ on SeaWorld premises and the ‘Dine with Shamu’ pool which has no awning or other protection from the Florida sun. (see video)
Speculation regarding his future remains just that: speculation. It is not clear whether Tilikum will ever perform again. And with the recent announcement by SeaWorld of a new show “One Ocean” that will replace “Believe” and that will not include in-water trainer performances with the orcas, it is uncertain whether Tilikum will participate considering his forced isolation over the past year. Under the US Animal Welfare Act, isolation is actually prohibited for marine mammals, such as orcas, that are known to be primarily social in the wild. For such social animals who rely upon familial groups for their well-being, it is miraculous that Tilikum has survived his isolation in the back-pools in Orlando. The same can be said for Lolita, a southern resident orca that has been housed alone at the Miami Seaquarium for much of her 40 year confinement in captivity.
WDCS is calling for the phasing out of orcas in captivity. Although Tilikum may not be a viable candidate for release back into the wild, he may be a candidate for retirement to some form of ocean sanctuary. In light of the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau and a number of SeaWorld orcas over the last year, we are calling on SeaWorld to phase out its orca exhibits altogether. In short, WDCS is calling for these parks to stop breeding and importing these animals and let those already in captivity live out their lives in conditions that provide for their utmost health and welfare.
To see a shocking report about orcas in captivity by former SeaWorld trainers John Jett and Jeff Ventre, click here.