Mixed Emotions Over Death Of Tilikum, SeaWorld’s Orca Whale

The death of an Orca whale on January 6 was a very sad event. We’ve heard a good number of reports over the years regarding these magnificent creatures being washed ashore at the end of their lives. While not the largest animal known to man [that distinction is reserved for the Blue Whale], Orcas are not light-weights either. They are known to weigh up to 6 tons in weight and 32 feet in length, at full maturity.

Killer or Victim?

So, what about Sea World’s infamous ’Tilikum,’ a whale responsible for the deaths of three humans while kept in captivity for over 30 years? Are we glad he’s gone, no longer able to wreak havoc on anyone else? Or do we feel his maltreatment over the years and his subsequent mental health issues made him more of a victim than a predator?

Having followed this story for years, ever since CNN shined a glaring light on this issue in their award winning documentary, Blackfish, I’m inclined to feel sadness for his passing. I side with the animal advocacy crowd who feel that SeaWorld was the root cause of those deaths, not Tilikum.

His Life Serves As A Stark Warning

Due to public outcry, SeaWorld has come to terms with some of their culpability. As of early 2016, they publicly announced that the captive killer whales currently held at SeaWorld parks around the globe would be the last of their kind.

In March of last year, the tourist attraction ended its Orca breeding program and theatrical shows featuring killer whales.

In retrospect, for over 30 years, Tilikum lived a life of deprivation in an asylum of sorts that was certainly responsible for the shortening his life. At 36 years old, had he not been taken captive, he would have been in the prime of his life. Orca male whales on average live to 70 and females can surpass a full century.

SeaWorld weighs in . . .

In an official statement on January 6, SeaWorld announced the cause of death has not yet been determined, but that he faced some “very serious health issues.”

Perhaps, too little too late, SeaWorld President & CEO Joe Manby said, "Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired — and my heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family."

Tilikum, in memoriam,

Tilikum was SeaWorld's most prolific Orca parent, having sired 14 calves since he was captured about 30+ years ago. He was especially notable for his size, and considered the largest captive male orca on record, weighing in at 12,500 pounds (5,600 KG) and reaching a little over 22 feet in length (6.9 Meters).

We do hope his life is a stark reminder that whales should and cannot be held in captivity any longer — that going forward, these magnificent creatures will not have to suffer this form of cruelty, ever again. For those who still have mixed feelings about the deaths caused by this creature, just think about the very different kind of life this Orca could have led had man never intervened in his life. RIP Tilikum!

 

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