Diary Of A Killer Whale: What Motivated Tilikum’s Attack On Dawn Brancheau?

Now that “Killer In The Pool” is on news stands and online, thanks to Outside, I want to take some time to start digging a little deeper into some of the questions surrounding the tragedy of Tilikum and Dawn Brancheau. I met and interviewed some incredible trainers and scientists, and there is so much more that I would have loved to fit into the Outside piece. Getting into those issues, and posting additional news about orcas and killer whale entertainment will become one of the missions of this website, and I hope you will become part of the conversation.

The first question it makes sense to address, to the extent that it is even possible, is Tilikum’s state of mind on the day he killed Dawn Brancheau. Killer In The Pool has some relevant details about Tilkum’s life at SeaWorld: the abuse he receives from some of the female killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando, his physical health, his relative isolation (which has only increased since Taima, one of his most frequent companions, recently died in childbirth).

But the question of what triggered Tilikum to pull Dawn Brancheau into the pool, on that day as opposed to any other day over the years of close interaction with Dawn and many other trainers, is a key question which bears close analysis. It could have been a spur of the moment response to specific stimuli present while Dawn lay close to him on the slide-out. But it is also important to try and understand whether there might have been anything going on with Tilikum that day that might have made him MORE LIKELY to grab her, and then thrash her violently once she was in the pool with him.

So: was anything in particular going on with Tilikum and the other seven killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando that day? Anything that might have impacted his behavior and state of mind, beyond his general experience at SeaWorld and the specific way in which Dawn interacted with him?

This was a hot question immediately after Dawn Brancheau’s death because there were reports that the orcas in the mid-day Believe show–which takes place in the big Shamu Stadium show pool–had been misbehaving and acting aggressively toward one another. (The Believe show takes place in Pool A in the layout scheme below (click for full-size image), which is from the Orange County Sheriff’s investigative report; the “Dine With Shamu Show” with Tilikum and Dawn Brancheau took place in Pool G in the upper right ).

Then I learned that the Orange County Sheriff’s investigation had received a detailed e-mail about the behavior of the orcas in the show, from a spectator called John. This is what John had to say (click for full-size image):

(Note: both the pool layout schematic, and the e-mail were contained in an addendum to the Orange County Sheriffs investigative report, which I have put online in a collection of primary documents about the Dawn Brancheau tragedy; I’ll be adding more as I go along).

Since one of Tilikum’s primary roles in the Believe show was to splash the crowd, I naturally wondered whether he was involved in the aggressive behavior John described. If he was, that might indicate a disturbed state of mind going into the Dine With Shamu show that followed.

So I asked SeaWorld, and got this response: “There was no aggression in the show and Tilikum wasn’t involved in any case.  He was in a different pool.”

I thought it was odd for SeaWorld to flatly deny any aggression (perhaps they were using a VERY limited definition), though it is obviously not in SeaWorld’s interest for audience members or the public to think that there is anything but sweetness and light between the orcas at SeaWorld (John’s impression that SeaWorld was not eager to forward his witness report also gives you a sense of how corporate and protective SeaWorld can be about the image of its killer whale shows). But they did put to rest the question of whether Tilikum himself had been involved in the Believe fracas which abruptly ended the show.

Even so, I was left with a few questions, to which I have no answer: Killer whales are highly intelligent, social, and communicative.

  • If there was agro between a few of SeaWorld’s eight killer whales in one pool, how does that affect the other killer whales throughout the connected pool system?
  • Is it possible that the unusual behavior in the Believe show was a manifestation of some broader social clash ongoing between SeaWorld’s orcas, possibly involving Tilikum?
  • Was there anything problematic in the social dynamic between the orcas the night before, which might have caused deviant behavior the day of the troubled Believe show, and affected Tilikum’s work with Dawn Brancheau?
  • How did Tilikum spend the previous night? What pool was he in, and were any other orcas with him?

I don’t think SeaWorld is likely to volunteer these questions, but I’d like to know these facts, if only to gain further insight into Tilikum’s state of mind that day or rule out the possibility that the social dynamic in the killer whale pools in the previous 24 hours affected Tilikum’s state of mind and behavior on the day of Dawn Brancheau’s death. Maybe OSHA, which is investigating the death of Dawn Brancheau, will address them if SeaWorld does not reach some sort of pre-emptive settlement, which could minimize the facts that come to light.

In my next post, I’ll get into the Dine With Shamu show, and how Tilikum really performed. Stay tuned…

Tilikum and Taima
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120 thoughts on “Diary Of A Killer Whale: What Motivated Tilikum’s Attack On Dawn Brancheau?”

  1. Tim, I want to thank you for your informative and insightful look at the tragic events surrounding the death of Dawn Bracheau at SeaWorld. The questions you’ve raised are the same questions I’ve been plagued with since witnessing the unusual behavior of the killer whales on that life-changing day. Additionally, if Tilikum was not a part of the splash segment of the Believe show, I need to ask why?

    Since witnessing these events I have been on a quest to find the answers to these same questions. I have learned a lot about orca behavior, captivity vs. wild and the exploitive entertainment business. Still so much more to learn. I look forward to sharing my experience with you and your readers.

    1. John: It’s great to hear from you, and look forward to having you be a part of this discussion. You add an excellent question, a very excellent question, to my list.

      1. John, to answer your question about why Tilikum wasnt used that day in the show is because the shows are only a certain part of their day. The shows are also broken into different sections, i guess. They are broken into the K group and the T group. The 12:30pm show of Believe on February 24 was the K group, consisting of usually Katina, Kalina, Kayla. Kalina and Kayla have been having dominance issues since late 2009 early 2010. Kayla who has been more laid back since she arrived in Orlando is now trying to gain more dominance in the pod. Part of the reason we think they keep fighting is because Kalina is not one to fight, so she will swim away which makes Kayla want even more of her. They are not perfect everyone has issues even family.Tilikum is not always used for the splash segment, they like to give him a break sometime. I do not in any way believe that he killed Dawn because he was angry, mad for being in captivity, etc. Female killer whales are very dominant creatures and usually “bully” if you will, the males. It is the same for Ulises, Sumar, and Nakai in San Diego, and Keet, Tuar, and Ky in San Antonio. The females hold the power and when the male does something wrong they are put in the place fast. Most of the time Tili is with Taima, they were very good friends, but dont take that the wrong way. He also spends alot of time with the younger whales, Trua and Malia(Malia being Taima’s calf.) Occasionally he is with Katina or Kalina. But he enjoys spending time with the calves, and Taima when she was around. Most of the males also like their alone time, to get away from the females and will do so willingly. I hope i helped answer a few of your questions. 🙂

      2. This is incredibly helpful. Thanks so much for adding your insights and hope you’ll keep in touch.

      3. Hello Tim,

        Here is a video taken from an audience member from the 12:30 Believe show on Feb 24, just prior to Dawns’ death that has been posted on the net.

        You will see two whales chasing each other aggressively and appear to be fighting. You will also notice the trainers appear to leave the stage when they realize there is a problem.

      4. Thanks, Dawn. It’s great to have a video record of what John described, so people can see for themselves how the orcas were behaving that day.

      5. So its now 2012..Is there anything new that you have discovered or figured out?, for example : What is “Tilly” doing today?, Did Sea World Trainers ever get back into the water?, Was the surveillance tape the day Dawn died ever released to the public? . I am Canadian and only heard about this incident with ‘Tilly” like a few months ago because out of boredom/curiosity an looking on “Google” to see if anything bad has ever happened at Marine Parks. I don’t know if you will ever even see/read this post. If you do since honestly I’ll probably never find this website again (altho I hope I do) will you please email me at daniellebardawill@hotmail.com..thanks Facebook’s cool too.

      6. Tilly is still at SW Florida, participating in shows, and will no doubt remain there. He was ill earlier this year. The underwater camera video of Dawn Brancheau’s death was never released to he public, and so far SW trainers have not gone back in the water, likely pending an outcome from the OSHA case.

  2. Tim, great article.

    I met John through the Orlando Sentinel in Feb/March after reading his comments to articles posted by Jason Garcia of the OS in regards to the Tilikum incident. I contacted him there to come share his story on Facebook. He’s been instrumental in bringing attention to this story and keeping the pressure on APHIS and OSHA.

    As far as the comments from “anonymous”, I am about 99.9% sure his name is Tre – an 18 year old from Texas – who is aspiring to be an orca “trainer”. Believe me, I’ve had many chats with him ever since the Tilikum incident and those are his words, verbatim.

    That said, he is a proponent for orcas being in captivity and will defend SeaWorld as though they were “Gods”. I’m sorry but, that is just the truth. If I am wrong and it is not Tre, then surely it is someone that is an advocate for captivity and SeaWorld so, either way it dismisses any credibility shared.

    Though I completely “Believe” he was in that pool at the time, if he wasn’t – it is not as though they are very far away. They are echolocating creatures and sound/vibrations travel miles under water. Again, whether or not Tilikum was in that pool is irrelevant in way – there was clearly agitation and aggression going on.

    Tilikum absolutely knew what he was doing. In the police reports the spotter for Dawn says that, “Her hair floated into Tilikum’s mouth”. Really?? Then why did he have her left arm in his mouth right after she goes in the water and her head is not wet? Also, why did he drag her back down after she tried to surface a couple times? And finally, why did he take her left arm off, and rip her scull if he wasn’t ‘frustrated’ or just playing with her? Orcas know how to “play” with their food, and in fact, they “play” with seals, fish and porpoises with out “injuring” them and then allowing them to get away unharmed. Tilikum did not do this. They are highly intelligent creatures.

    They didn’t get into the water with Tilikum before this incident and some will argue it was because “he is so big”, however, that’s not why – it was because of his track record. I’m not saying he’s some evil orca – I’m saying he is a previously “free and wild” orca that has no business in a tiny pool for decades.

    SeaWorld’s death chart for captive orcas far outweighs any “successes” they like to talk about. Never forget, Taima, Tilikum’s one and ONLY best friend at SW Orlando died an awful death in June while giving birth to her 4th!! calf at the age of 20. Wild orcas don’t normally start breeding until around 15 years of age. She was far too young to be breed so often. Now with her gone, he’s truly the loneliest whale in SeaWorld’s tiny pools.

    Thanks for the great article, Tim, and do contact John privately as he is an incredible asset to the cause of exposing the lies and deceit behind SeaWorld.

    1. Thanks for a great comment, Colleen. I am okay with anyone offering their views and opinions here, as long as they are respectful and have a perspective or information to add to the discussion. The question of how Tilikum grabbed Dawn, and how he behaved once she was in the water, is something I plan to examine in greater detail in a subsequent post.

    2. Hi Tim,
      I was involved in the 1996 video of the co-written song “Lolita, Hold On”, and for this posting, I’d like to share…Youtube (devorahmusic)…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2Al_92_NWw…and a few thoughts:
      I was surprised by the emptiness of the stands that appear in the videos of the tragic Feb., 2010 incident. My assumption is that there might be a trend in less revenue generated for these entertainment parks…
      If indeed there’s a trend in public awareness of what we have done as a human species since the 1960’s to contribute to Orca behavior in captivity, and what that ‘taking’ of Orcas in the wild from their life long families might suggest…
      what better opportunity than right now to embrace each others points of view, and create a harmonic long lasting plan that creates a shift in past patterns of destruction.

    3. I’m with Colleen on this one. I also think we are really silly to just “believe” that Tilikum was not in the “Believe” show that day just because SeaWorld say so. You cannot tell from the footage and there are a few pieces of it on various social media platforms who the whale is that enters for the end segment that is not an end because the two whales are obviously fighting with each other. In fact, there is little I do believe that comes out of the mouths of anyone currently employed at SeaWorld. They are liars and have proved to be liars and they lie to support their business. They have no sense of ‘social corporate responsibility’ and behave like any government department or agency under investigation.

  3. at Colleen, this is not the “Tre” that you speak of. And no i really dont think he knew what he was doing. No seal in the wild gets away from killer whales completly fine with no scratches or marks. thats simply unheard of. As far as Tilikum, he is a very possessive whale, once she was in the water, he didnt want her to leave, its not because he wanted to keep hurting her because he hates his life in captivity. And your wrong Colleen Taima was not his only friend, he has other friends as i said above. Please stop pretending you are some all knowing orca expert who can read their minds. You will never be able to know what Tilikum or any other whale is thinking. As far as Taima goes, we are all well aware that she is not in the wild. Lets do some comparisons here, there are plenty of humans who have had 4 children by the time they are at least 30. Kate Gosselin had 8 children by the time she was 30. Now honestly 4 calves that are all healthy, i dont think is horrible for a 20 year old orca. More than in the wild? of course, no one is saying that captivity is perfect, it has issues, just like the wild.

    1. Really? Then who are you? And why don’t you post your real name? What is there to hide?

      I’m sorry but, to compare Taima to Kate Gosselin just goes to show how little you know about cetaceans or orcas in general. These are the same arguments I’ve had with you before, Tre.

      And yes, I have seen orcas “playing” with other marine mammals and leave them up on shore, unharmed in any way.

      Orcas in the while don’t normall “start” breeding until they are in their early to mid-teens. So, again, you are wrong. Taima was only 20 and on her 4 calf. Do the math. If you know anything about orcas in the wild, you know this is unheard of. And no…not all of them were “healthy”. This last one died do to placenta previa and that is not because the Mother was “healthy”.

      As far as Taima being Tilikum’s only friend, I beg to differ. Name ONE other friend he has? One. That’s all I ask. She was his only companion that he got alone with in Orlando. To say anything to the contrary just proves how much you do not know about Tilikum.

      Don’t get my tone wrong because, we are just writting here and I mean no offense to your opionions but, clearly you are a fan or proponent for “captivity” and think there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. So again…I’ll go back to what Tilikum did to Dawn—he longtime trainer and person who was closest to him that collected his semem for the artificial inseminations practices they did/do – he attacked and killed her. Orcas KNOW that we breathe air…they know their young breathe air – they push them to the surface when they are young so they can do so.

      If Tilikum was “so safe” to be around, they why wasn’t anyone allowed in the water with him? Again, not because of his great size, but because of his track record. He brutally killed Dawn (may she rest in peace) and she had to be terrified the last moments of her life knowing, the animal she loved as a child, turned on her.

      God bless her and her family. It’s time to put a stop to captivity and “captive breeding”!!!

      1. Sorry…”orcas in the wild” and “his longtime trainer”. I was typing very fast.

        Mr. Anonymous, I know because I’ve read the Police reports, and heard from people who reported what they saw in said reports. Everyone saw her being pulled down, not once, not twice but apparently 3 times back down after she frantically tried to surface. That’s how. It’s in plenty of places to read.

        SeaWorld was not interested in interviewing eyewitnesses. They turned them away. They are only interested in protecting their behinds which is exactly why they are trying to cut a “deal” with OSHA and settle before the final investigation is over in August. Would you like me to post you that news article from Orlando Sentinel that states just that?

  4. Also Colleen, how is it you know so much about what exactly happened with the incident when only a few people have seen the tapes or were there to watch it. Have you seen the tapes that show him pulling her arm in the water.

    1. My answer is above but, will repost for you.

      Mr. Anonymous, I know because I’ve read the Police reports, and heard from people who reported what they saw in said reports. Everyone saw her being pulled down, not once, not twice but apparently 3 times back down after she frantically tried to surface. That’s how. It’s in plenty of places to read.

      SeaWorld was not interested in interviewing eyewitnesses. They turned them away. They are only interested in protecting their behinds which is exactly why they are trying to cut a “deal” with OSHA and settle before the final investigation is over in August. Would you like me to post you that news article from Orlando Sentinel that states just that?

    2. Where can I find a tape of the beginning of the attack? I understand not having the entire video of the death up for viewing but many would like to learn from watching the beginning of the attack, with Dawn being pulled into the water.
      Censorship is not always good when it comes to retrospect and learning from
      a tragedy like this and doing all we can from making the same mistakes.
      Where I’m the hell could someone find a video of the attack’s beginning?
      Her family shouldn’t have all of the say in censorship!! RIP to Dawn but this could have possibly been prevented if Tily’s other victims’ videos were accessible. I’m not saying 100 percent of the blood and gore but the events that led up to the attacks and the beginning of the attacks could’ve possibly helped prevent similar outcomes.
      If anyone could provide a link where the beginning of the attack on Dawn could be seen(for educational and respectful circumstances only) please help. Also, there’s a picture of who appears to be Dawn and Tily in the water with a caption that seems to believe it captured the beginning of the attack, saying Dawn’s left arm is in Tily’s mouth. However, Dawn is smiling in the photo and the orca’s dorsal fin isn’t seen so there’s no way to know if it’s really a true photo. You can’t really tell from the murkiness of the water that Dawn’s arm is indeed I’m Tily’s mouth… that’s speculation. If this is true then how is her smile explained? She does not appear to be afraid or nervous. There is also a comment refuting the ponytail theory pointing out that, in the photo, her hair is dry.
      Is this a genuine photo? There’s a lot that does not add up. That’s why I would like to see the video portion of the beginning of the attack. I’d like to compare the two. There’s too many immature sensationalism at stake here, unfortunately.
      If anyone can share a link on the video please paste below as well as clarifying the said photo and it’s authentic state… much thanks.

  5. Those words were not from Tre, Colleen and indeed a few others seem to have it in for him. Tillikum was NOT in the pool that day. Also Colleen is one of a vocal few keen to badmouthing Seaworld at every chance and its fans, for me that dismisses her credibility. Same with John. There are several people who doubt John’s story and his motives and I’m sure would be glad to talk to you too since this has now been published.

    1. Is that so Anony mouse… Actually the first post sounded a lot like Peyton but all of you faceless, nameless SeaWorld supporters begin to sound alike which is why I don’t waste my time on you… I’ve got more important people to deal with. When have I badmouthed SeaWorld? All I have ever done is present the facts, and if that reflects poorly on SeaWorld, then that is SeaWorld’s fault. Several people doubt my story? LOL I’m sure there are soooo many people waiting to hear Anony mouse’s theories on my motives. Isn’t it past your bedtime now?

    2. I said, he may not have been in the pool that day, and it is irrelavent to anything because he was IN the connecting pools.

      If you are not, Tre, Lisa or whomever from your beloved SeaWorld Orland fan page, then who are you? If you are a real person with real facts, then please, post your real name as I have. You know who I am, that is clear because I have nothing to hide and surely you recognize me from my loud voice on the issues at hand.

      Why can’t you be as honest and say who you really are? Your hiding negates every bit of credibilty. Sorry but, that’s just the truth.

  6. I understand a healthy debate, but how can you compare a human being that has 8 children by the time they are 30 to a Cetacean?

    That makes absolutely no scientific sense. Human Beings and Cetaceans are completely different when it comes to age of breeding, number of offspring, etc.

    1. Amen, Dee. And thanks for posting that video to Tim. John posted it yesterday on Facebook. It clearly shows the aggitation going on. And even if Tilikum was not in that fight, he was right around the corner.

      1. Thank you Maxine. I followed your link but it appears to take me to another video and not video footage from the12:30 Believe Show… but I’d love to see it if you can repost.

  7. I am going to bypass most of the typical “facts” that get bumped around during this debate. Bottom lines are fairly simple and based on scientific studies. Normal breeding age for Orcas vary greatly, in fact most of the studies clearly state, at the introduction, that due to the difficulty of studying these animals in the wild, much of their breeding habits remain UNKNOWN. What we do know, we have learned from captive studies. As to simply brushing aside a persons view point because they happen to support SeaWorld, and calling their opinion irrelevant is both arrogant and blind. Many supporters are people that attend the parks on a regular basis and have developed a true fascination for the animals there. Who better to gather knowledge as to what was normal behavior from these animals and what was abnormal. Tilikum was NOT in the pool during the show that day. Any person with two eyes can clearly see that, he is the largest Orca in the park and very hard to miss, if you have ever seen him before. I do not believe the article above was specifically debating captivity for the animals, but was trying to look deeper into the accident. That being the case, the comments above are slightly off topic. A very large animal, is going to do damage to a small human, period. Whether it was aggression, play or outright rage. So the damage sustained means little to uncovering the truth. The witness statements from the trainers that know these animals better than anyone showed a great deal of clarity, but are scoffed because they are just from “wet suites”. I have spoken with 4 individuals, two that were there the day of the accident, and two that were there the evening before. There was nothing strange that occurred! To a new comer, someone that had not seen these animals and did not know them, I am sure the aggressive play between the two in the video posted, would be disconcerting. However, for individuals that have seen them before, know there personalities so to speak and who have also watched studies of similar pod behaviors in the wild, it is not abnormal to an extent that would explain the accident. I applaud those that want a better insight and understanding into what occurred, but I do now give credence to those that are looking for a conspiracy theory. Sea World long standing record in the field of conservation gets bashed by animal rights individuals all to easily in my opinion, and the call to FREE the animals is both inadequate as well as blindly selfish. Tilikum’s behavior is being carefully looked at but SeaWorld, policy is being changed and safety for both the animals as well as the staff is paramount. There is no cloak and dagger, no conspiracy no matter how hard people try to create it. Tim, I hope you are able to look even further into this. I personally look forward to future posts and wish you well!

    1. @ Anonymous- as this was my first visit to SeaWorld, I was not aware of the names or the hierarchical order of dominance within SeaWorld’s collection of orca whales. Thank you for that information. I agree with your contention that the infighting between the female orcas probably stemmed from their natural struggles to achieve dominance within their group. As we know, orcas are highly evolved, intelligent, social animals. The unusual behavior exhibited from all the whales, including Tillikum’s attack on Dawn, most likely was precipitated by those ongoing struggles which apparently climaxed on that day.

      @ Anne- Thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate your openness to offer your interpretation of what occurred at SeaWorld on February 24. I however respectfully disagree with your minimizations of my observances. You may not be aware that after the delay during the separation of the uncooperative whales, attempts were made to resume the show. The whales continued to be unresponsive to commands and refused to perform, hence, the remainder of the show was cancelled. I was there and I have accurately reported my observations, I have correlated my story with photo and video footage, and I stand behind all of my statements.

      And as far as your minimization of my ability to accurately form an unbiased, intelligent opinion of my observations as “a new-comer”… I believe my observations go beyond that of a typical tourist. My career entails providing unbiased, detailed observations on a daily basis. Those observations affect the lives and livelihoods of many people. In addition to my visual inspections and observations, a portion of my daily activities includes the role of safety administration. In that respect I am certified by several government agencies, thus I am always acutely aware of my surroundings and potential hazards, both at work and otherwise. It is ingrained in me. If it weren’t, the safety and lives of many people would be at risk. So, I would assert that my keen observations accurately reflect the events that took place and the video now substantiates my claim.

      What brought me forward to present my observations were SeaWorld’s public claims that there were no indications of any problems prior to Ms Brancheau’s death. This is false. There were problems. Period. And SeaWorld witheld the information from investigators. Dawn’s death was a tragic event… and it was preventable. When the truth is finally revealed and upon completion of the investigations, we will find that profit was placed ahead of safety.

      Since the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau I have performed quite a bit of research on orcas. I also have spoken to some of the world’s most respected and knowledgeable researchers. I’ve corresponded with experts and non-experts and it would appear that the only source of biased information is produced by SeaWorld and other marine mammal parks, which profit from the belief that captivity is sustaining a species, educating the public and providing valuable research. These are the same people that are providing your “facts” for you. The truly unbiased orca research, which is performed by non-profit organizations and caring, unselfish individuals, reveals that SeaWorld and other entertainment venues, provide little to no educational value and provide little research other than that to sustain a viable entertainment population. Marine mammal parks exist to “entertain” the masses and provide profit to the owners. Unfortunately this comes at the cost of suppressing a large, intelligent, social creature forced to live a life with nary a resemblance to its natural environment.

      1. Thank you John for writing this… Two thumbs up, you just put my thoughts into words beautifully.

  8. Thank you Colleen, and I want to state I was not trying to pick a side with my post. I am no where near an animal expert at all, and obliviously, do not know as much as yourself when it comes to wild killer whales. But even a layman can see the ludicrousness in trying to compare a human being a cetacean with regard to breeding.

  9. again Collen, this is not Tre. how many times do i need to say that. So for Tilikum here are his friends he mostly hangs out with: 1.Trua, 2. Malia, other times he can be seen with: 3.Nalani, 4.Katina and most of the others hang with him at times to. You asked for 1 i gave you 4 plus the fact that they all can be with him. I understand the Kate Gosselin wasnt the best comparison i was simply trying to make a point. and actually humans and cetaceans are very similarly related. Also it is not known fact that Taima died from placenta previa, so you can not go stating that. The reason Taima died was because the calf was located in an unnormal position which created major blood loss and SeaWorld was unable to help get the calf out. Nothing to do with how many calves she has had before. Many people and cetaceans can get this on their first child! And please do not tell ME how much i do not know about Tilikum. If anybody i think you would be the one who doesnt know about Tilikum or any of the SeaWorld orcas for that matter.
    “I’ll go back to what Tilikum did to Dawn—he longtime trainer and person who was closest to him that collected his semem for the artificial inseminations practices they did/do – he attacked and killed her. Orcas KNOW that we breathe air…they know their young breathe air – they push them to the surface when they are young so they can do so.
    If Tilikum was “so safe” to be around, they why wasn’t anyone allowed in the water with him? Again, not because of his great size, but because of his track record. He brutally killed Dawn (may she rest in peace) and she had to be terrified the last moments of her life knowing, the animal she loved as a child, turned on her.”
    Well if you have really read the reports you would know that he let her go quite a few times and she got air.He doesnt know she cant hold her breath for more than about 5 minutes. I mean how is he supposed to know this?No one said he was safe to be around, hence the precautions already in place. She knew there was the risk of them turning on her, they are wild animals. Again please do not go telling me how much i do or do not know about orcas because trust me i probably know more than you. Also how is being condescending and rude to people going to get your point across to them? That will only turn them away more. I know very much what i am talking about, im not an idiot.

    1. Folks, this is a great discussion, and it is very helpful to get so many viewpoints. But please let’s keep the comments focused on information and facts–what we know, what we think we know, what we think it all means–and avoid getting personal.

  10. Bottom line, Dawn’s session with Tili prior to her death was poor. Tili was slow and mostly unresponsive, yet he was reinforced throughout. Near the end of the session, and the beginning of her demise, he was clearly cued into an absence of food; ice in the bottom of a hollow bucket is a give-away for any captive cetacean. Instead of walking away from a substandard session she chose to continue on, in a vulnerable position, with no food, and with a whale that appears to be done with the interaction. Compounding the scenario, her spotter is 20-30 yards away, and at times is paying little attention to their interaction. That said, I’m not pointing the blame at the spotter. It is human nature to let one’s guard down to be lulled into a false sense of security when all goes as planned for extended periods. However, had the spotter been in close proximity, he could have done nothing more than he did. At this point Tili was in charge of the session.

    Dawn’s death was likely the result of a bored, subdominant, whale who had an opportunity to procure a novel experience – and he did. I’ve heard that the sea circus is very good at handling these kinds of emergencies. Really? Anyone with access to the Internet can find dozens of examples of just how silly this statement is. When a killer whale wants to do something, like thrash or kill a trainer, he/she does it and there is little their human counterparts can do. This is obviously the case.

    Sea World knew Tili’s track record. They must have known that eventually someone would end up in his mouth, yet they elected to put their trainers at risk. Money makes companies do interesting things, and Sea World is all about profiteering at the expense of others (whales, bears, dolphins, skiers, trainers, etc.). I thought they were the whale behavior experts? If their expertise is as they advertise, then surely they are culpable. Seems to me that any decent attorney would/will have a field day with this one.

  11. Tim, in response to your question above:

    “Is it possible that the unusual behavior in the Believe show was a manifestation of some broader social clash ongoing between SeaWorld’s orcas, possibly involving Tilikum?”

    The clear answer is yes. Social “clashes” occur frequently, and some of these can disrupt the captive group for days. The video above shows a serious interaction occurring, although it is difficult to tell whether or not it is “aggression.” Incidents such as the one that happened immediately preceding Dawn’s death (the show was canceled just minutes before she was taken down) can result in sessions/shows that are difficult or impossible for extended periods of time after the fact. It is clear that some kind of social jostling was happening, and it has been funny to read the sea circus spin on this fact. Their spin: all was well and NO this in no way had anything to do with Tili grabbing Dawn. I suppose they ask him about it post-hoc.

    1. Hey guys, great discussions going on^^ but i have to agree with Tim, he wants it to stay on facts.
      Tim, i will answer these to the best of my knowledge:)
      “If there was agro between a few of SeaWorld’s eight killer whales in one pool, how does that affect the other killer whales throughout the connected pool system?”
      It depends on what is going on and with who. Some of the orcas are used to a bit of dominance issues and the ones that are not apart of it tend to stay away from it all.

      “Is it possible that the unusual behavior in the Believe show was a manifestation of some broader social clash ongoing between SeaWorld’s orcas, possibly involving Tilikum?”
      Yes, there was something else going on, i think someone posted above that the issues had been going on for a while before then, but no Tilikum didnt have anything to do with it. While he does spend some time with the whales involved(Kalina, Kayla.) he doesnt spend as much as say the calves or Katina. Tilikum likes his alone time but can also swim and play with the others if he wants. Also i think Colleen stated above that they cant choose who they spend time with? which is untrue. Some times, mainly during shows and such they cant choose who to swim with but even then the trainers know who plays well with who and so they can usually put them with whales that they like.

      Was there anything problematic in the social dynamic between the orcas the night before, which might have caused deviant behavior the day of the troubled Believe show, and affected Tilikum’s work with Dawn Brancheau?
      As posted above the behavior had been going on for a few weeks, but no it didnt affect Tilikum or he wouldve lashed out sooner.

      How did Tilikum spend the previous night? What pool was he in, and were any other orcas with him?
      Im guessing he spent the night in either A pool or G pool, most likely G. but not certain. I will try to get back to you on that.

      Some people(not blaming anyone here) but they claim that right after the incident when Tili was in the medical pool that he was being held prisoner here, while he may have been there for a little while there are pictures that prove this theory wrong. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/media/photo/2010-02/52414026.jpghttp://1.bp.blogspot.com/_oVvCYxtlKQo/S4_i57n4YhI/AAAAAAAABs8/fvu6nWMkJBU/s400/Tilikum.jpg

      these photos show that he was not being held in the pool, the 1st one is better to see.

      1. *http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_oVvCYxtlKQo/S4_i57n4YhI/AAAAAAAABs8/fvu6nWMkJBU/s400/Tilikum.jpg

  12. Between John K’s first person report and John’s informed analysis we can probably reconstruct most of the events leading up to the fatal grab. I would just like to add to the mix some observations from studies of free-ranging orcas that might be relevant. Probably the main point is that orcas in natural settings bond for life with family and all activities revolve around family members. Whether this comes from some genetic predisposition or is deeply ingrained in their cultural lifestyles, or both, the facts from the field show that orcas are highly attentive toward one another and tend to want to cooperate, interact and engage in all sorts of social activities.

    We can cite a list of ways that Tilikum, even more than most captive orcas, has been deprived of any semblance of normal social or family life, and how his confinement prevents the 24/7 aerobic activity needed for healthy metabolic functioning, and how his daily life is dominated by arbitrary management whims, and how the featureless, immaculate steel and concrete tank amounts to extreme sensory deprivation, and his unending mental disturbance becomes clear.

    Then when you look at the social disruptions that day, even if they didn’t directly involve him, would be a bit like enduring a tense fight in your house with no way to get out of there.
    Now add Dawn Brancheau probably attempting to soothe him with a “relationship session” but running out of fish. Then comes the signal, actually a yell from the window below, to end the relationship session for a photo-op with tourists.

    I think we can see the precursors for the crazed act in which Tilikum violates the rule that all free orcas worldwide obey: never harm a human. At least that’s how it adds up to me.

    I wouldn’t expect anyone at SeaWorld to have an inkling of any of this. Some of the comments above could be used in a classroom seminar on the corporate culture at SeaWorld. For example:
    “What we do know, we have learned from captive studies.”
    “Many supporters are people that attend the parks on a regular basis and have developed a true fascination for the animals there. Who better to gather knowledge as to what was normal behavior from these animals and what was abnormal.”

    I have found an almost perfect record of SeaWorld personnel and supporters’ absolute conviction that all real knowledge about orcas or other marine animals can be found among the experts at SeaWorld. That degree of inbred ignorance and obliviousness to field studies is not healthy and leads inevitably to massive errors in judgment.

    Thirty-five years of demographic and behavioral studies of dozens of distinct orca communities worldwide have given us the outlines of the species’ social complexity and diversity. Using photo-identification to document individuals over years and decades, we are learning the lifespans, diets, association patterns, and habitat use of thousands of orcas. It’s sad that those whose knowledge of orcas revolves entirely around SeaWorld or other marine parks don’t look beyond the concrete and steel because “What we do know, we have learned from captive studies.”

    1. Howard, I can only assume that you are not well versed in the areas of complex social debate, based on your response above. If I were not amused, I would be highly offended. First in relation to my comment, “What we do know, we have learned from captive studies.”, I was speaking of breeding habits. This quote itself was found in numerous field studies as well as peer reviewed papers. Has some studies taken place in the wild, yes, but they to date a very few and far between and the data is not all there as of yet. Tell me based on you extensive experience, in the past 50 years how many Juvenile females in the wild have gone into estrus prior to the age of 10. How many have begun mating prior to the age of 10? How many possible pregnancies occurred and were any calves still born? In the past 100 years, has there been a change in mating and breeding habits in the wild pods? In the past hundred years, has there been an alteration in age of first mating encounter? What I am getting to is simple, there is still a great deal we do not know about these beautiful creatures. Can we gather that data from the wild, of course we can. However, we have also been able to gather a great deal of data from the captive animals. So to claim that we have not, or that the data gained is inconsequential, is simply close minded and ludicrous. You statement of “violates the rule that all free orcas worldwide obey: never harm a human” is also a bit unfounded. Being that these animals rarely come into to contact with humans in the wild and no actual studies have been done as to what the interactions would be, if they did come into contact with us under various stresses, I am dumbfounded as to where the rule was written and who was audacious enough to write it. Also, your comment of “That degree of inbred ignorance and obliviousness to field studies is not healthy and leads inevitably to massive errors in judgment.” Lends credence you your individual mentality and is extremely disappointing on a personal level. It is a shame, for you are intelligent and do have a great deal to offer a conversation, but to lower yourself to insults simply takes away any validity you might have. Finally, you state that, “Thirty-five years of demographic and behavioral studies of dozens of distinct orca communities worldwide have given us the outlines of the species’ social complexity and diversity. Using photo-identification to document individuals over years and decades, we are learning the lifespans, diets, association patterns, and habitat use of thousands of orcas.” And to this I will agree, however I would add that an equal number of years, dedicated to the study of these creatures in captivity have also given us data and outlines into the species’ social complexity and diversity, breeding habits, diets, association patterns, as well as medical knowledge gained to help them in their plight in the wild. And the photo identification studies you mention, were greatly inspired and funded my SeaWorld and Hubbs Research, and you are correct that they are an invaluable tool. Again, this conversation has gone back to being an outright attack on captivity, which is disappointing. And the automatic condition of tossing out someone’s thoughts and opinions, simply because they are supporters of SeaWorld is just childish and remarkably self serving.

      1. Folks, I can only repeat my plea for this discussion to stay away from personal attacks, comments on people’s intelligence, etc. There is some great information being shared and debated here, but the tendency to cast personal aspersions takes away from the quality of the debate. I don’t want to moderate comments heavily, but if it keeps up I will consider taking down any comment that gets personal–in the hope that the commenter will resubmit the good stuff and leave the personal stuff on the cutting room floor.

  13. With regard to the Education of Seaworld: I found on a message board that someone had contacted Seaworld and asked “Is Tillikum transient or resident?” and Seaworld replied:

    “Thank you for contacting the SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Family of Parks. We appreciate your questions as they are invaluable in helping us provide you with world class service.

    Tillicum lives at our Orlando facility full time.

    Thank you again for your interest!

    Best Regards,

    SeaWorld and Aquatica
    Guest Correspondence

    I think this is blatant deception on the world the part of Seaworld. Tilikum was captured from the wild and has a pedigree and came from a certain part of the world. Karen, the guest correspondent from Seaworld purposely did not answer this question. One might speculate Seaworld is educating to it’s fans that “Captive” is a biological species of Wild-born Orca? Ask any animal expert outside of Seaworld what kind of Orca Tililicum is and you will get an entirely different answer that the one Seaworld provided.

    I think this is a good example of what Howard, the poster from above brings up, and also that Seaworld does not educate it’s fans, but fills them with propaganda to allow their practices to exist.

    1. Dee, I understand that completely, but would also ask in return….why in the world would someone contact guest relations with such a question. There is an educational department, conversational department and a scientific department!! Common sense would tell me to ask the question of the people most qualified to answer it. Why does it have to mean that SeaWorld is attempting to deceive others. Could it be a simple case of asking the wrong person the question. Sorry, but it just seemed ridicules to assume this means they are lying. Taking SeaWorld out of the picture for a moment, I have read so many studies in the past 6 months about Orcas, published by numerous individuals and the one thing I walked away from it with, its the simple fact that our studies on these magnificent creatures is still vary new, and there is still a great deal unknown. I have no issue with the fact that ALL facilities should be better monitored to guarantee that the educational data they provide is as accurate as humanely possible. But to defame a corporation that has such an outstanding history in conservation, education and rehabilitation because a few of their educational facts are inaccurate, well that is a bit extreme. You example is perfect in describing one of the greatest problems I see, some are so intent on causing the company to look bad and loose face, that they are not interested in anything others have to say. The question of whether or not Tilikum is Resident or Transient, when presented to the correct individual would have been answered correctly I have no doubt, because it is a question I myself asked personally while visiting the park. I also know the educational value of Seaworld, because I myself have sponsored hundreds of children’s visits over the years. I personally have witnessed that education and the direct results it had on the lives of those that attended. But again, I am a supporter and therefore nothing I have to offer is of any worth……….and just a note, I to have spoken with many experts outside of SeaWorld, and though some do not agree 100% with everything SW does and says, many are highly supportive of the values SeaWorld has offered throughout the years.

  14. Thanks for continuing your series on this Tim and for moderating. I agree, that comments need to stick to the conversation and remain relevant and contribute to the thread.

    Regarding the social influences, in my experience there are days when things are “off” and a group of animals responds as a unit.

    It does not matter whether or not they are directly involved in the interactions, are in close proximity or are not housed together–they are affected.

    The SW model has always been a tight corporate “family” that focuses on creating the same picture within the corporate structure as well externally as the public facade–it has been that way since the early 1980s and is likely to remain so because it works for them.

    What disturbs me is that the lack of good protocols/adherence to protocols that resulted in a death.

    I mentioned previously (in another post) that SW declined to share any protocols with those of us who were involved in publishing a crisis management resource guide aimed at mitigating such issues within the zoological/aquarium/animal facility enviornments.

    Orca or captive wildlife issues are not uncommon in captivity–it is just that the public does not often get to witness them.

    An animal’s size and proximity always pose risks–it is an occupational hazard.

    Complacency and lack of astuteness are often contributors to the death of a caretaker or trainer.

    Personally, based on my experiences, I think it is a number’s game as to if and when you face an incident and come out unscathed.

    Sometimes you can identify the contributing factors–and sometimes you cannot.

    It would be of valued to see the footage prior to the attack–both above and below the surface.

    All animals exhibit warning behaviors prior to escalation and failure to heed these precursory warnings and terminate a session would put the trainer/handler at risk.

  15. Tilikum is Icelandic, which is neither Resident nor Transient. Icelandic killer whales are piscivorous (fish-eating), and they hunt herring by using underwater tail slaps to stun the herring, and then they leisurely eat them one by one. They do not eat seals as I have seen stated repeatedly in attempts to explain the violent manner in which Tilikum attacked Ms. Brancheau. http://www.springerlink.com/content/t1408884281lp680/

    Many, many people have swum with killer whales in the wild–you can go to Youtube right now and see a handful of examples–and there has never been a reported human death. Anne, you referenced stressors, well the stressor is captivity, plain and simple. We do not have the right to learn ANYTHING from them if the conditions in which it is being done are detrimental to them. The killer whale research by SeaWorld/Hubbs pertains to captive orcas living in highly-abnormal conditions, and is focused on perpetuating the captive supply. Here is a list of some of the extensive research that is done on wild populations that is actually pertinent to them. http://www.orcanetwork.org/nathist/scifield.html
    To be fair, here is a list of Hubbs/SeaWorld research from their website. I saw two published studies that directly pertain to (captive) killer whales.

  16. As I understand it, the contribution from studies at SeaWorld to understand orca breeding habits can count one major accomplishment: learning the gestation period of 17 months. In 1985, when Katina gave birth to Kalina in the first successful captive birth, that gestation period became known, and has been a valuable factor in demographic studies of free-ranging populations.

    Another biological fact revealed from captivity was the earliest age at first conception. Kalina, born Sept. 26, 1985, was not quite 6 years old when impregnated with Keet, born Feb. 2, 1993, which provides the benchmark for sexual maturity in orcas. In wild populations, at least in the best studied populations in the Pacific NW, the earliest age at first birth is ten, and that’s very rare. The average age at first birth is 14. So if you look at breeding habits, or to be more exact, traditions, pregnancy is usually delayed for about six years. This abstinence, unless possibly orcas are capable of some means of preventing conception, is fascinating and useful information for understanding wild populations.

    Anne asks: “how many juvenile females in the wild have gone into estrus prior to the age of 10?” The answer is above: none, which opens another intriguing window into the ways of the orcas. From personal communications with former marine park staff I’ve been told that orcas don’t show any regular estrus cycle. The onset seems to be random, or under conscious control. If so, then in wild populations, social guidance and constraints, and traditions, would play a deciding role in whether or not to become pregnant. This has profound implications for all sorts of demographic assumptions, such as infant mortality rates based on the absence of calves, and for our overall understanding of the degree of conscious control orcas are capable of. We know their thermoregulation systems – their ability to warm or cool their bodies, can turn on or off with apparent conscious control, and of course, like all cetaceans they are conscious breathers, so is it possible they can consciously control their estrus cycles? That’s an interesting possibility.

    We can’t say much about any changes in mating and breeding habits in the past 100 years, since even after 35 years of field work we still only have just over a generation documented. There is no way of knowing the rate of stillbirths in the wild, although a few newborns have washed up, so we know they occur. If these questions are intended to mean that this information will come from captive studies, we have to consider that reproduction in captivity is heavily influenced by the conditions of captivity and management decisions, and tells us very little about what takes place in real oceans.

    There does seem to be a rule that all free orcas worldwide obey: never harm a human. Orcas often come into contact with kayakers and people in small boats, but also during capture operations in Washington State in the 1970’s and in Japan in 1997, while nets were drawn around them, the young were wrapped in nets and hoisted away in slings, mothers were forced away from their young, sometimes with sharp sticks, and yet there is still no example of an orca attacking a human. No other animal is known to exhibit such restraint. If it’s not a rule then I have no other explanation.

    By combining information learned from captive and wild studies we get a more complete picture of the animals.

    I overgeneralized when I referred to inbred ignorance to make the point that marine park personnel almost always disregard field studies. The management of the Keiko release project, for example was made up entirely of marine park personnel until the last two years in Iceland, and in those early years they never consulted with field researchers except to learn how to use specific instrumentation like time-depth recorders and satellite tags. Had they taken into consideration the information that was well understood by field researchers, that Keiko needed to be returned to his immediate family and not to just any orcas he might encounter, he might be alive today. I could rephrase that comment to say that there is a pattern of hubris displayed at marine parks that prevents them from gaining knowledge from field studies.

    For instance, the photo-ID studies were not “greatly inspired and funded by SeaWorld and Hubbs Research.” Not at all. The studies began in the early 1970’s because SeaWorld’s capture teams were taking so many orcas for display that the Canadian and US governments wanted to know how many there were and if that level of removal could be sustained. Historically, that’s when SW’s antagonism toward field studies began, because the surveys showed that almost half of the Southern Resident community had been removed, and a court decision banned SW from ever capturing there again. Then in the late 1980’s SW attempted to capture ten orcas from Alaska and wanted a survey to find out where they could be found, so they hired field researchers for one year until Alaska responded by banning any captures, and the contracts ended. I’m not aware of any other contribution to field research on orcas by Hubbs/SeaWorld. I don’t know if most folks at SW take credit for the field studies, but that would be another example of wrong information passed around inside the walls of marine parks. Maybe this exchange can help us have conversations over that fence.

    1. I am learning a ton from these comments. Thanks to everyone sharing their ideas and information.

  17. I stand corrected on the original Orca identification methods developed by Mr. Biggs, I honestly do not know why I related him to Hubbs, it was an error on my part. I apologize.

    Let us say for a moment that an investigation in to the Tragedy at SeaWorld reveals that indeed Tilikum should not be in captivity. What next, I am aware that no one is actually recommending dumping him back in the ocean and setting him free. Well, at least for the most part, anyway. I have herd recommendations of a coastal sea pen, retirement so to speak. Others push even further and say all Orcas should be released into these sanctuaries. My question for those so adamant is how do we go about this. As Howard pointed out, Keiko was not handled properly, and no I am not beginning the debate of what was failure vs. what was success, for that would be a waste of time and energy. My question is more about logistics. How is it proposed that this happen. SeaWorld is not going to fund such a project, at least I can not picture why they would. They have a huge fan base that appreciates them exactly as they are, even though those fans tend to take a beating for it. Keiko’s project was vastly underfunded, and for those of us that donated, we were greatly let down by what we felt was a lack of follow up and investigation after his passing. As loud as the outcry was, it was not enough and the funding dried up. So how do some recommend we proceed. I can only imagine the great expense of a large scale project like this. Do we start with Tilikum, and see how it goes? Who would take the funding lead, have there been offers made by parties that fund such a venture?
    Tim, I ask this out of genuine interest and not sarcasm. I feel as a part of investigating why what happened did, it is important to also figure out not only what should be done, but how it can be accomplished. I have heard a great deal of complaint about SeaWorld, a great many cries to end captivity, but I have yet to here a viable solution or plan of action. I would be interested in hearing from others if any such thing exists!!

    1. Anne: no one I talked with–even those who support returning orcas to the wild–believes that Tilikum himself could successfully be returned to the wild. The Humane Society has proposed a sea pen, but SW is not willing to release him to a sea pen even if someone else funded it and handled all the logistical challenges you raise. There are two reasons for SW’s position, I think: Tilikum is valuable to SW as a breeding stud, but more importantly once SW retires one orca to a sea pen, then it raises the question of why others don’t get retired from their parks as well. So it would set a precedent that they don’t want to set.

      So, as I suggested in the article, I think Tilikum’s fate is basically sealed. He will die at SeaWorld, and it seems highly unlikely to me that he will ever be reintegrated into the shows or be allowed in close contact with trainers. You can imagine the liability.

      On the bigger question of what should be done with marine park orcas if orca entertainment ever were to be phased out, I think that the remaining wild orcas–like Lolita–could be returned to their pods (and I know Howard, and Ken Balcomb from the Center For Whale Research, know a lot about how that should be done). And the most sensible suggestion for the rest of the orcas that I heard in my reporting was simply to stop breeding orcas in captivity, and let the industry die a natural death along with the couple of dozen orcas that currently are in captivity.

      1. I think there are very few that can be released at this point and possibly only Lolita. Some should at least be retired to sea pens, first and foremost being Lolita because she is the best candidate and she lives in the worst conditions that I know of. I agree that the breeding should stop for a few reasons. 1, they are hybrids, not any specific species, and can in no way support any dwindling orca population’s numbers in the future. There is no AZA species survival plan that might justify breeding these animals in captivity. 2, despite the supposed sterile habitat that is free from pollution and other human threats, the consistent food supply, and veterinary care, these animals are consistently dying much sooner than their wild counterparts.

        There is no justification for continued breeding of captive orcas. If they intend to continue, I think they should have to provide sound scientific data of how this is in some way benefiting wild orcas. A peer reviewed independent study, not the AZA asking people upon leaving the park if they feel differently towards ocean conservation.

      2. Hello Tim,

        You might be interested to know that today marks the 40 year anniversary that Lolita the Killer Whale was captured from the Puget Sound. I personally think she would be a prime candidate to be retired to a sanctuary.

        They have done a moving Public Service Announcement on her:


  18. For the record, many of Sea World’s captive killer whales have had holes drilled vertically through their teeth column into the pulp below with Dremel tool and bit (without anesthetic I might add). These holes now must be flushed with betadine solution several times per day to remove debris, which if left would most certainly result in infection and ultimately endocarditis and death. For this reason alone, the whales with holes in their heads cannot be released. Of course Sea World doesn’t want anyone to know about these bore holes, so let’s all keep quiet.

    How about this for a plan: put the breeding-aged females on birth control (easy to figure out a dose response), and over a period of 15-20 years the captive population would be reduced to zero through senescence and disease. Sea World could continue to make money off of their captivity during this period. Sea World could also advertise their intentions – they would come off looking like champs. This is a no or low cost alternative to releasing their whales, which are in my opinion generally in too poor condition for release.

    1. yes please i would love to know 1. why do they put holes in their teeth and 2. how do you know this John?? and yes great idea lets hope all the whales die in captivity instead of giving other animals a chnace at life. and for comments above if he is icelandic and he eats fish that would make him a resident whale.

      1. Peyton you’re incorrect about all fish eating killer whales being classified as residents. Did you read the study Gayle and I linked to? Residents are found in the Pacific, not the Atlantic. There are several different ecotypes and species of killer whales. Tilikum is a Scandinavian herring-eating killer whale. Regardless of whether you choose to believe this or not, this is a fact.

      2. what i meant michelle, was that some people on FT keep saying he is transient. which is also incorrect. IF the Norwegian and Icelandic killer whales would be classified as transient or resident then they would be resident. I am aware that resident and transients are in the pacific. and yes i did read the article, good read. thanks. Also i am well aware of the different species and ecotypes of killer whales. and as i said i was simply stating that he is more closely a resident than a transient as Rachel and others keep saying.

      3. After Tilikum fractures teeth on steel gates, sometimes the remnant tooth is similar to a fractured piece of glass. This deformed (but terminal) tooth now presents a danger to both the soft tissue of Tilikum’s inner mouth, as well as to the other orcas that might experience a rake mark. Dremmel tools are used to knock off the sharp edge and also to construct a flat surface for a drill bit. (i.e. It’s easier to drill into a flat plane, esp when the animal is under no anesthesia and has the ability to move). Tilikum, as a subdominant male, spends some of his time jaw-popping at orcas on the other sides of gates. This is a threat display, and one way the animals work out the pecking order. When the displays become dramatic, the animals will actually “chomp” down on the steel cross beam, and break teeth. Keep in mind that there are no steel gates in the ocean.

  19. First… why do the orcas have holes drilled in their teeth???
    Second “The reason Taima died was because the calf was located in an unnormal position which created major blood loss and SeaWorld was unable to help get the calf out.”
    The reason she is dead is because she has been forced to breed over and over and it finally killed her… $eaworld killed her due to greed!!!
    Captivity is wrong period!! Captivity kills period!! Stop supporting the killing!!

    1. she was not forced to breed at all. please tell me how you are going to force these animals to breed? AI?nope only 2 births through that.

    2. Don’t forget that her mother Gudrun, died in 1996, for similar reasons. Except in Gudrun’s case the stillborn was chained (by the peduncle) and extracted. This lead to a terminal hemorrhage. Both fetus and mother were lost.

      1. i still dont understand how that means they were forced to breed? this sorta thing happens in the wild to. we just dont know about it

  20. My God! Why do they drill holes in their teeth?? What could possibly be the reason for this??

  21. Great Google Earth Orca Tracker. Lot’s of data, videos, and information regarding both wild and captive animals. On my computer it works best with newer browsers, like Google Chrome. Just read a heading, double click, and it snaps you to that point on the earth where an event occurred, including data and articles for both wild and captive orcas.


  22. This is being hijacked as all articles are by a certain few people from a certain facebook site. A case of those who shout the loudest get heard? What did john kieltu actually see? The believe show. As did many others. He saw nothing more than many others yet seems hell bent on his 15 minutes. Perhaps that is why people have always doubted his story. The reason for what happened is perhaps best left to the experts rather than a bunch of wannabe experts who have been studying orcas since February.

    1. Maise, If you have read anything I’ve written including the report to OCSO and every other investigative body you will see that I do not claim to be a whale expert, nor am I proficient in whale behavior. Yes, I have learned a lot about orcas and whale behavior since February, probably more than most people will in a lifetime. The conclusions and decisions will be left to the experts, not me. I have merely provided the facts of my observations and I can’t answer to why more people that were at the Believe show haven’t been more vocal. That’s them. It’s not me. It’s not my personality to remain quiet to pamper the desires of SeaWorld and their supporters. I did not “ask” for this. In the beginning I remained quite anonymous, however, the SeaWorld supporters (and I’m sure you were among them) were claiming that I was not who I said I was. Well here I am. And I’m speaking out because this doesn’t have to happen again. Now you want to doubt my story? What is there to doubt? All the facts are there. And, no, I did not see a Believe show. I was there to see a Believe show but due to the events that occurred, the Believe show was never completed. I have to agree with you… I saw nothing. Let me run down the list of a couple of things I didn’t see:
      1. I did not see the whales behaving as anticipated
      2. I did not see the whales cooperating
      3. I did not see the whales obeying commands
      4. I did not see an automated operation of the gates which separate the whales
      5. I did not see the completion of the Believe show because of the aggressive behavior
      6. I did not see or hear an announcement that the Dining with Shamu event would be cancelled due to the problems in the Believe show.
      7. I did not see anyone enter Tilikum’s pool in an attempt to rescue Dawn
      8. I did not see a smooth operation of the spools of netting being deployed
      9. I did not see a request from SeaWorld for more information about my observations
      10. Aside from OSHA, I have not seen a thorough investigation, by SeaWorld, Orange County Sheriffs or any other investigative body
      11. I did not see SeaWorld provide investigators with any of this information
      12. I did not see or hear the truth when SeaWorld proclaimed there were no indications of any problems prior to Dawn’s death
      13. And last, but not least, I did not see Dawn Brancheau alive again (may she rest in peace)

      1. John K.
        Thanks for your astute observations and ongoing contributions to this story. You’re right on the money. I can assure the onlookers that there are more than just non-experts contributing to the development of this discussion. For a good look at Tilikum’s decimated lower jaw (now requiring thrice daily Betadine irrigations to remove impacted fish from the holes), watch this video. Go to 1:17 for a look inside the orca’s mouth.

      2. 6. I did not see or hear an announcement that the Dining with Shamu event would be cancelled due to the problems in the Believe show.

        as i have said before the incident in the believe show you saw that day was with 2 whales! 2! they had 6 other whales to use for dine with shamu. including the calves and Tili.

        7. I did not see anyone enter Tilikum’s pool in an attempt to rescue Dawn

        if this happened in the wild and your friend was being trapped in an orcas mouth would you jump in to save them?? no you woldnt because then you would both end up dead. how is that going to help? Tili is 12000lbs. how is a 130lb trainer going to get their best friend away from a 12,000lb animal??

        8. I did not see a smooth operation of the spools of netting being deployed

        well of course not their best friend was in the mouth of the biggest orca at all the SeaWorlds. why would it be a smooth deploy of nets?

        9. I did not see a request from SeaWorld for more information about my observations

        your observations in the Believe show were not needed as you were not there during the Dine with Shamu. They dont have time to interview 5000 people about what they saw in the Believe show. They did however interview the 12 or less guests still there after the Dine with Shamu show.

        10. Aside from OSHA, I have not seen a thorough investigation, by SeaWorld, Orange County Sheriffs or any other investigative body

        OSHA is the only one that is doing this long of an investigation. Orange county did their own investigation after the incident where they announced that it was an accident and they didnt think he meant to do it.

        11. I did not see SeaWorld provide investigators with any of this information
        12. I did not see or hear the truth when SeaWorld proclaimed there were no indications of any problems prior to Dawn’s death.

        these problems had been going on for at least a month or more, so no its not unusal for there to be problems with the whales during a show. one time when my mom and brother went there.Katina started chasing Taku around the tank because she was disciplining him. does that mean something strange and unheard of was happening?no.

      3. My point is, you didn’t actually SEE anything related to the incident except what happened at a Believe show. Perhaps that’s why no-one made a big deal of your statement. All the other points you mention not seeing – well you wouldn’t would you since you were nowhere near at the time when Dawn died.

    2. How could you consider this article hijacked by supporters of John, when his letter is featured in the article? I believe our comments are welcome here. What have you contributed, other than a few insults aimed in our direction? I am sure the posts sharing valid scientific information about killer whales, and John’s first hand account of what happened that day, are much more welcome posts than an attempt to insult everyone who isn’t a Seaworld fan here.

      1. I believe our comments are also welcome here, there’s nothing I can see that says no Seaworld fans except a lot of people trying to denounce fans as knowing nothing as they don’t agree with the self proclaimed ‘experts’.

  23. Thank you, Tim Zimmerman! I appreciate you keeping this issue in the spotlight. My husband read the “The Killer in the Pool” in Outside Magazine at work, and he came home and said “You’ve gotta read this article” because he knows how passionate I am about this. I found the article to be the most thorough well researched article on this subject to date. Excellent work!

  24. John,
    From My perspective:

    1. I did not see the whales behaving as anticipated
    Not sure, having never seen them before, what your expectations were, but they are wild animals, there behaviors are not alway predictable.

    2. I did not see the whales cooperating
    Again, wild animals, like children, don’t always cooperate.

    3. I did not see the whales obeying commands
    Again, and again, wild animals, sometimes they don’t want to and they are not forced to!

    4. I did not see an automated operation of the gates which separate the whales
    They gates are not automated, during shows manual operation tends to avoid mechanical failures, which is in the best interest is the animals in my opinion.

    5. I did not see the completion of the Believe show because of the aggressive behavior
    I sound like a parrot and I apologize, but again, wild animals do not always chose to do the show, and since they are not forced, that means no show.

    6. I did not see or hear an announcement that the Dining with Shamu event would be canceled due to the problems in the Believe show. Tilikum was not involved in the incident, and since he is who they show during the dine portion, why cancel. This was not the first time two of the younger animals have acted in this manner and disrupted the show, and it has never caused an issue with the Dine portion, (doubt it did this time, IMO), so why cancel?

    7. I did not see anyone enter Tilikum’s pool in an attempt to rescue Dawn
    Not protocol! However, I have wondered just how quickly the alarms were sounded after her entry, and had that been practiced with Tilikum in the past. In other words, was he accustomed to the sound of the alarm, or could this have startled him more. These are the reasons SeaWorld is looking thoroughly through their safety protocol I would imagine.

    8. I did not see a smooth operation of the spools of netting being deployed
    Possibly human factor?, in an incident such as this, practice does not always mean perfection due to the human stress factor.

    9. I did not see a request from SeaWorld for more information about my observations
    Based on a copy of what you claim to have sent them, perhaps they had enough to go off of, You were fairly thorough in you observations, plus they spoke to many others and had a pretty good base to go off of. How much time did you give them to complete their investigation before you decided that they were an evil company that needed to be shut down? (those were your words, not mine)

    10. Aside from OSHA, I have not seen a thorough investigation, by SeaWorld, Orange County Sheriffs or any other investigative body
    Having extensive experience in this sort of tragedy, I can say that these things take time, sometimes even years based on the type of tragedy. Knowing many of the Orange County Sheriffs investigators personally, I disagree….the others have yet to report their findings, perhaps patience is in order?

    11. I did not see SeaWorld provide investigators with any of this information
    I have to disagree, they did indeed provide them with everything, however where yours was concerned you may have beat them to the punch, but this does not automatically equal a failure on their part, again they had a bit going on at the time.

    12. I did not see or hear the truth when SeaWorld proclaimed there were no indications of any problems prior to Dawn’s death. Perhaps, as stated before, since this type of behavior amongst the pod members was not unusual to the team members it did not constitute a “problem” to them, or again, perhaps since the investigation is still in progress we are jumping the gun in assuming what they will and will not proclaim.

    13. And last, but not least, I did not see Dawn Brancheau alive again (may she rest in peace)
    Difficult, for it is hard to see someone once they have crossed over……….Dawn was a fantastic person, who loved what she did and knew the risks. As someone who knew her, I would be willing to bet she would be proud of how the entire SeaWorld team handled this incident! Accidents happen, they are tragic and sad, but they happen. Sometimes more often in certain fields of work! I have to say, that based on some of what I have read about these animals, if I believed them, I am simply amazed that more deaths do not occur, as crazed as they are by being kept in captivity. One would thing they would attack more often.

    Just my thoughts…….

    Thank you for your earlier response in regards to what the “plan” would be. I am not opposed or at all disagreeable with a majority of what you said. That stated, I disagree that there are not those calling for the animals to all be released into sanctuary, and even some wanting the set free altogether. At least, those that are more experienced in these animals are not amongst those individuals. Where Lolita is concerned, I agree and simply wish there were a way to force it to fruition. I wish however, that it did not always have to lead back to a direct attack on such a good company. Growth is sometimes needed, but it does not negate the good that has been done. Perhaps one day a conversation like this will happen without the need for being condescending and Petty. SeaWorld supporters for example were not the only ones confused as to Tilikums proper classification. And I am fairly certain most of us are aware that there are not steel gates in the oceans!

    Again, thank you for your article and incite.

    1. Anne, thank you for your perspective. There are some things I agree with, and some we will simply have to agree to disagree. (I do not feel there is a need to respond to Peyton’s perspective as her answers are evident of her knowledge on the topic, and I will not respond directly due to her age)
      Anne, as Dawn’s death was the direct result of an animal’s behavior, I believe that my response to report the unusual behavior I witnessed was the appropriate thing to do. And as this was my first visit to SeaWorld, I am not sure what my expectations were. However, it was evident from the problems that occurred, the whales’ aggressive behavior and subsequent cancellation of the show that this is not what the typical visitor would experience. Aside from one visitor, who was “fortunate” enough to be splashed during the splash segment of the show, it apparently was not what the many people sitting in their ponchos and Shamu towels came to see. Now we can go on and on about your, and SeaWorld’s, perspective that the whales are “asked” to perform and are not “forced” to perform. Regardless of the term used, when you withhold food and personal attention from a highly intelligent social animal that requires sustenance and craves social interaction, in order to obtain certain behaviors, then I would argue that they ARE forced to perform. (I am well aware of the training methods used and perhaps that might be a good topic to address in a separate blog with Tim). Much like on that day, after the problems erupted, the trainer who spoke to the audience said they are just going to “ignore” the whales until they settle down. The whales never did settle down and the show was abruptly cancelled.

      As far as the operation of the gates that separate the pools, at no other time during the performance did I see trainers operate the gates in the manner as was used specifically during the attempt to separate the whales. We’ll leave that to the investigators to draw a conclusion.

      We will also leave it to the experts as to if, or how, Tilikum was affected by these events just prior to the attack. Like I said, I’m not an expert, but I have corresponded with some of the top people in this field and they all agree that the behaviors and aggression that I described and is evidenced in the video (however poor the quality is), can and often does precede an attack.

      Anne, I understand that it was not SeaWorld’s protocol to enter the pool with Tilikum for any attempt to rescue Dawn. Knowing what I now know was occurring just feet away, during this attack when Dawn was freed several times, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have entered the pool in some attempt to distract Tilly and give Dawn a chance at life. Yes, there’s a strong possibility that my life would have ended as well. And it does trouble me immensely to know I was that close and could have possibly done something. And I expect that I will catch a lot grief from the SW fans for those statements. But they don’t know me and I would not expect them to believe it or understand it. But those that truly know me would not be surprised, even if I was torn limb from limb. And when faced with life and death decisions, I certainly would not respond merely by the wishes of “Company Protocol”. But that’s just me.

      I agree with you that the alarm most likely exacerbated Tilly’s heightened aggression. The alarm (which was similar to a hotel fire alarm sound) probably scared and confused him. Again, not an expert, but even if he could not “hear” the alarm, the reverberations off the glass of the underwater viewing area would certainly be felt.

      The spools of netting- agreed. I’m sure human stress factors contributed to the problem… but may not have been the only factor.

      Regarding my report to SeaWorld and their response: As you can see in my report to the OCSO, I encapsulated my observations in a brief synopsis to give them some indication of what occurred, yet the details could have only been extracted through a proper interview or follow up. The same synopsis was provided to SeaWorld who made it clear to me that they were not interested in discussing the matter any further nor did they indicate that the information I provided would be passed on to investigators. By the time I received their response, I was already aware of the other deaths and incidents at SeaWorld. And, as five days had past since the death, the company blog they directed me to was already moving on to other things such as updates on Manta. After locating the area of the blog concerning Dawn’s death, I attempted to post the information there and it was quickly removed. So when did I decide they were an evil company that needed to be shut down? (which are YOUR words, not mine- so let’s not play that game). My answer: as soon as I received their response.

      Anne, I stand by my statement that aside from OSHA, I have not seen a thorough investigation by SeaWorld, Orange County Sheriffs or any other investigative body. Like you, I also have extensive experience in investigating tragedies. I also know that these investigations tend to fall apart when there is a lack of cooperation from witnesses or when witnesses simply do not come forward. However, in this case the opposite appears to true. Although the Orange County Sheriff’s Office included my written statement in their final investigative report issued 04-28-2010, they never contacted me prior to completion of their investigation to request any additional information, clarification of my observations and/or photos or videos I took that day. I understand that they, like me, are not “whale experts” and it may have been beyond the scope of their investigation, however, this seems to be indicative of the Sheriff’s Office investigation. They chose not to investigate or interview other independent witnesses such as the Connell family from NH, present at the initial attack and videotaped the moments preceding the attack at the Dining with Shamu event. Instead, the OCSO chose to rely on SeaWorld employee testimony as the basis for the investigation and its’ conclusions, which are contradictory to those provided by the Connell family. Just recently, upon persistence by the Connells, the OCSO agreed to add the statements the Connells provided to OSHA, as an attachment to the OCSO final report. These statements are not part of the OCSO final report which was widely distributed by the media, on the internet and is not included in the version of attachments that Tim links to on this blog. OCSO did contact me by mail and by telephone AFTER releasing their final report.

      Aside from OSHA, all other investigations are complete. The House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs and Wildlife has yet to report their findings following a Congressional Committee Oversight Hearing regarding the educational value of Marine Mammals in Captivity. But this is an industry-wide investigation.

      This I find to be preposterous: You presume that I may have beat SeaWorld to the punch at providing investigators with a report of the problems in the Believe Show because “they (SW) had a bit going on at the time”? Well, I do agree they had a bit going on. It’s called “the show must go on!”. So… I completed my vacation, traveled several hundred miles and after 4 days had passed since the death, I beat them to the punch? SeaWorld had already resumed the Believe Show, pulled off a tribute show, reworked their routines and got the money-producing public back in the seats and yet had not offered investigators any information concerning the problems that occurred just minutes prior to the attack? They were busy alright. Busy putting Dawn’s death behind them and getting back to business as usual. Meanwhile, SeaWorld Animal Curator Chuck Tompkins was all over the media proclaiming there were no indications of any problems prior to Dawn’s death, so I am not “jumping the gun in assuming what they will and will not proclaim”.

      To end on a good note: I agree wholeheartedly with you that Lolita needs to be released to a sea pen. 40 years and all alone in that tiny little tank. It’s time to send Lolita home! 🙂

      1. Just want to say thank you for your observations of the Believe show and after reading the observations of trainers on the day in witness statements I am convinced the behavior of the whales may have impacted Tili’s mood. If you search online you can find not only Dawn’s full autopsy report but links to all the witness statements taken by OCPD; nearly all of which are from trainers and SW workers. You can also find statements to OSHA online though they seem to have relied mostly on SW employees accounts, with only a few “visitors” who witnessed Dawn being taken questioned. I have read all of the one’s I’ve found, not just the ones that Tim has kindly linked us too in various articles on this website. I would estimate I’ve read about 30 witness accounts of events that day. Of that I believe about half of those witness statements are from trainers from the Believe show itself, trainers from the back pools observing the other whales throughout the show, workers from the DWS session, Jan’s and the trainers working the underground viewing station. Most of these trainers were involved in the rescue attempts on Dawn. One thing that was mentioned in several different accounts from the trainers working the Believe show and the trainers in the back pools is that the calf of one of the whales was acting up and in response it’s mother was acting up in the Believe show. At one point they considered letting the calf go out to the show with the mother but decided against it. Two different trainers passed the word to the performers in the Believe show that the calf was distressed and calling its mother but they didn’t know why. One trainer noted that the disturbance between mother and calf had affected the other whales. If the whales performing and not performing were impacted by this disturbance the chances are as a sub ordidnate male and a not very well one – he was discovered to have a white cell count indicating a low grade fever – Tili was also impacted by the disturbance. It could explain his lethargic and uncooperative performance in the DWS show and maybe go someway to explain that he got frustrated and annoyed and decided to attack Dawn. I applaud you in your efforts to be heard in you observations. I also applaud the loyalty SW employees show SW. If you believe in something and love something it must be near impossible to see fault in it. I ‘ve stated before that I believe that these performances should be phased out so that SW can concentrate on what it claims to be all about conservation and education. One death may be explained but Tili has been involved in 3 now – 2 of which he acted alone. THAT is the fact I believe people should focus on so that it never happens again.

  25. Oh my word….. John you were there …. seen it …lived it… and the wetsuit worship cult will say and do anything to protect their entertainment facility!! No matter how many lives it takes they want to be entertained! What is wrong with people???
    John thank you for sharing and caring!!

    1. i dont want to sound rude here, but John did not see anything regarding Dawn’s death. he saw the Believe show along with at least a thousand other people. I will only consider someone seeing it and living it if they actually saw and lived what happened. The people that stayed after the DWS was over and were at the underwater viewing saw it and lived it. I am sorry while i understand you think that what you saw in the Believe show had something to do with the attack that simply isnt the case. Tilikum was the only whale used for DWS that day seeeing as the others wouldnt cooperate.

      1. Peyton, I think Kathy is referring to what I saw at the Believe show. I was there, I saw it, I lived it. She is not implying that I saw the actually take-down of Dawn. She is making the point that for some reason the SeaWorld fans who were not there, like yourself, have repeatedly felt the need to tell me what I saw in order for it to fit into what YOU want to “Believe”. I was there. I did see what I saw. I did live it. And I have accurately reported what I’ve seen.

      2. ok i understand that much. i was just saying that it sounded like she was implying that you were there when it happened. i have seen videos and know enough about orlando’s orcas to know that its not abnormal for them to do that. nor is it abnormal for them not to want to cooperate during shows or dine with shamu. I was at no point telling what you saw. i was taking what you said you saw and helping you realize what was really happening. I am sorry for trying to be so helpful, i now understand that no matter how much more i know about the captive orcas then you do,i will always be wrong in your eyes

  26. Mr. Kielty,

    I am very impressed with your explanation of events and thoughtfulness. You have given me food for thought with regard to my opinion of this whole event. I would just like to clarify for the viewers of this blog a comment you made, as it might not have been clear, and I bring this up because after the Seaworld Attack, I as well went to the Seaworld blog they directed people to go to for more informational and did have the same concern you did.

    The “Manta” you describe is the Manta Rollercoaster. This is a typical Steel looping roller coaster that one would find in most amusement parks, with difference being the car that people sit in is cosmetically dressed to look like Manta Ray.

    I do find it odd that Seaworld was directing people to their blog as the more serious side of their information source, only to have this blog talk about a roller coaster.

    I will say this, from reading Mr. Zimmerman’s article and the posts on this blog. Whatever the reality of the situation , it does seem that Seaworld is trying to hide something, and wants to move on. What they are hiding I will not speculate, as the OSHA report has not come out yet.

  27. John ..you are 100% correct.. I was referring to what you witnessed that day at the attempted “Believe” show and my comment stands proved that the $eaworld fans will say and do anything to defend their beloved entertainment… even when it has been proven over and over captivity kills… not only does it kill the animals it holds captive it also kills those who perform with, feed, and breed those animals…. but hey as long as the fans are entertained and get splashed…. the killing will continue…. sad… very very sad…..

    1. i dont know if you saw my comment Kathy, but as i said it didnt seem that way to me! i apologize, but as far as the captivity kills comment, thats complete crap. You act as if captivity kills more than the wild does! So obviosly you havnt heard of the oil spill happening, the depletion of all the cetaceans food sources, coral reefs dimenishing,etc. THAT is killing, us humans. Of course captivity isnt perfect, i dont believe any supporters of captivity have said that SeaWorld is perfect. They could use improvements, but please dont go around saying that all they do is kill animals. thats complete crap. Ask any person leaving seaworld and they will tell you that they learned so much more than they wouldve in a book or movie, there eyes become open about Earth’s creatures because of it and that is something that no classroom,movie,book, article, or person can give someone. As far as splashing, i mean come on thats the best comment you have, that as long as we get splashed. Most people dont want to get “splashed” only the little kids sit in the soak zone and thats only at shamu stadium.

      1. actually Gayle, you are wrong, there is still 1 whale alive, not at SeaWorld but they wernt all brought to SeaWorld. When these captures were taking place SeaWorld didnt exist or had just opened. So to say there are none alive at SeaWorld is stupid and doesnt explain anything. All those orcas died early because that was when we were just learning about orcas, barely any research had been done on them before. They were just thought as killers. But now as we learn more and more about them, we can create better places for them to live in captivity. Despite what you want to think, SeaWorld is the BEST at what it does and nothing you say or think happens there is giong to change that. No one has ever said that SeaWorld is perfect and the orcas couldnt use bigger pools. That does not explain how SeaWorld kills its animals because all of those animals died at the begining of learning about them.

      2. Peyton – There are no surviving endangered Southern Residents at SeaWorld–this is a true statement.

        “When these captures were taking place SeaWorld didn’t exist or had just opened”–this is a false statement. Per PBS Frontline, “A Whale of a Business:

        “[1966-early 1970s] Don Goldsberry and Ted Griffin develop a netting technique for capturing orcas in Puget Sound, selling the animals mostly to Sea World. By the early 1970s, Goldsberry has captured more than 200 orcas. About 30 were sent to various aquaria. The rest went to Sea World.”

        “1970 – Penn Cove, Washington, whale capture. 80 whales are corralled by the Seattle Public Aquarium’s collectors. Several whales die during the capture. Their bellies are slit and they are weighed down with steel chains.”

        “Washington state waters are closed to killer whale captures, in the aftermath of the notorious Budd Inlet killer whale capture of the same year. The whale roundup and capture was witnessed by Ralph Munro, an assistant to Washington State Governor Dan Evans [Munro was later Washington Secretary of State]. Munro happened to be sailing in Puget Sound at the time. He reports that Sea World’s captors were using aircraft and explosives to herd and net the whales, a clear violation of the terms of their collection permit. When Washington State Governor Dan Evans learned of this, he sued Sea World. All of the whales were eventually released, and a Seattle district court ordered Sea World to give up its permit-granted right to collect killer whales off Washington.”

        “With Washington state waters off limits, Sea World turned to Iceland for its killer whale captures.” “In just two short years, Sea World had nine new whales, and at this point, reportedly dropped out of the picture.”

        From the book “Orca: The Whale Called Killer” by Erich Hoyt:

        “Seattle Marine Aquarium (closed 1977)
        This private aquarium, originally called the Seattle Public Aquarium, was initially owned by Ted Griffin, who exhibited about four orcas beginning with Namu in 1965. In the late 1960s, the aquarium was bought out by Sea World, and while it continued to exhibit orcas, it was mostly used as a temporary holding facility for recently captured orcas bound for San Diego or Florida.

        From “Reported Causes of Death of Captive Killer Whales”, Journal of Wildlife Diseases Vol. 15, January, 1979:

        I thank the following organizations and individuals for their contributions of data that made this report possible: Sea World, Inc. (Dr. Lanny Cornell and Mr. Don Goldsberry)…”

        Regarding your comment “SeaWorld is the BEST at what it does…”, please consider that the BEST is not good enough for killer whales, in particular, due to their size and complex social/familial needs.

  28. With respect to Peyton’s submission above, I’d like to respond to:

    “Ask any person leaving seaworld and they will tell you that they learned so much more than they wouldve in a book or movie, there (sic) eyes become open about Earth’s creatures because of it and that is something that no classroom,movie,book, article, or person can give someone. ”

    Peyton, the research is seriously lacking about how much people learn about killer whales, dolphins or other captive animals while visiting zoological parks in general. More specifically, there is NO systematic, peer-reviewed research demonstrating that people learn something about killer whales from observing them at the sea circus. This is a fallacy that Sea World perpetuates to substantiate keeping the whales in concrete pools.

    In addition, there is NO systematic, longitudinal, peer-reviewed, research demonstrating that people change their attitudes and/or behaviors after they leave the sea circus. Again, this is a fallacy (conservation fallacy). Sea World is very good at telling us how guests’ lives are changed after seeing the whales in captivity, although they cannot back it up with any literature.

    So, Peyton, with respect to your comment, I’d ask you to please share with us the literature or evidence that you cite.

    1. I promised myself I would not respond to this thread again, because as usual it has evolved into an anti SeaWorld theme altogether, or perhaps even began as such. Either way, it appears as though the purpose of it is less about gathering information, and more about simply casting negative out at a company. Regardless, I break that promise to address John’s response to Peyton. Not to point out the obvious, but her remark was “Ask any person leaving SeaWorld and they will tell you that they learned so much more than they would have in a book or movie”….this does not sound as though she is claiming there has been research as to such. But thank you for pointing that out, in case someone else misread it. Instead it sounded like an invitation! It is possible based off of her own experiences, though that is a guess. However, after my own experience, I would have to agree with her. I would be very interested in seeing research done for exactly that purpose for all facilities of this type. I have a feeling, where SeaWorld is concerned the results would be surprising to those who like to bash the company. I myself have been to the park on numerous educational outings over the last 20 years. Supplied in advance with a wealth of educational material, provided by SeaWorld. I have escorted both large and small numbers of children of a wide variety of ages, class and social standing. I have also witnessed the test material given after the fact, and can attest to the fact that a great deal more is often learned in such an environment vs. a classroom or text alone. I have, through SeaWorld, and Inspired by SeaWorld chaperoned environmental activities with children of all ages, from beach clean ups, waterway recovery, reef restoration, turtle nesting protections and watch, and even various dives to recover abandoned fishing gear. In 20 years of my life, I have been blessed to partake in the inspiration that SeaWorld offers and since there were many adults and chaperons involved along with me, I would be willing to bet there are many more out there like me, who could offer testimony to the same. In fact, during the congressional hearing, I took part personally in a educators drive to provide letters to the committee members on exactly what SeaWorld has offered our children over the years and the effects that it had. Just in that little bit of research, I was able to point to over 40 cases where a love for SeaWorld, and the passion its education provided inspired children to grow up and follow paths in various careers including, but not limited to, Veterinarians, Marine Biologists, Wildlife technicians, Environmental Scientist and Aviculturist.

      Needless to say, I believe perhaps that your remarks are off base. Just because a species has not been found and studied, does not necessarily mean it does not exist. Granted, some research into the educational values of all facilities such as this would be well placed and recommended. However, we should not, in the mean time discount what individuals personal experiences are, after all it is those experiences that would make up the results to those sorts of studies.

    2. i would like to know John, where you get this information of SeaWorld truly teaching guests the wrong thing. Not what someone says they were taught at SeaWorld but what SeaWorld truly taught people. I would love to know where this misinformation is.

    3. John, if Seaworld tried to do research about what people had learned from their visit then the anti captivity lobby would be all over them for wasting money that could be going into conservation to promote themselves.

  29. Dear Ms. Mills,

    I do not have the link handy, but this was brought up at the Congressional Hearings in Washington several months ago. Representatives from Seaworld spoke on the educational value they present, and opposing animal experts gave their side.

    I do not remember the specifics, but one of the panelists gave specific instances where the information on the Seaworld website with regard to Killer Whales was misleading and many times incorrect. I remember reading a PDF from the Hearings themselves online, but I do not remember where it was.

    Perhaps someone on this thread has a link to that information?

    1. i have read that information on their site and none of it is wrong. so please go ahead and tell me what is wrong because i might have missed it.

  30. Having read the majority of these comments, a few common themes have jumped out at me…. As a result, I would like to share my knowledge and opinion.

    Firstly, I would like to add in a disclaimer, if I may – I am not and I do not pretend to be a cetacean expert. I am a Zoology student who has spent time with cetacean experts. I am very passionate about the effects of captivity on cetaceans and so have spent much of my time reading up and enquiring on what is out there, from both sides. But anything opinionated I say in this post – it is just that, MY opinion.

    1) In the wild, orca pod size ranges from 1-55 orca.

    This has implications on captive orca – problems do arise from forced associations, animal-animal and human-animal contact.

    2) Not only are different orca around the world named differently, but they are genetically and culturally different.

    Transients are genetically different from residents, are genetically different from Icelandic, are genetically different from Argentinean, are genetically different from New Zealand and so on….

    3) They speak different dialects, eat different foods, use different foraging and hunting methods, etc.

    These different populations do not mix in the wild and they do not understand each other.

    4) Hierarchy comes into play – usually matriarchal… This has caused some disturbances, one well known incident when Kandu rammed Corky at SeaWorld San Diego in 1989. Kandu died almost instantly (RIP).

    5) Nothing in captivity can provide the correct stimulation that an orca requires – in the wild they reach speeds in excess of 56km/hour and can travel as much as 160 km/day.

    In captivity, it is likely they don’t receive enough stimulation, as we wouldn’t in a small hospital room for months on end, or in the bath for too long, or stood in a phonebox.

    And these are good equivalents when taken into consideration that (male) orca can grow up to 9.8metres and weigh up to 10,000 kg.

    Also, in the wild, orca can dive up to depths of 167 metres. In captivity, they are lucky if they can make it to 12. In fact, there has not been a captive marine park in the UK since 1991 because no park is willing to (and there is no park in the world that does) meet UK regulations of a minimum tank depth of 12m, with an average being 15m (for a tank holding up to 5 orca).

    And let’s put this into perspective – UK regulations state that for every 12,ooo m/cu there must be 14.5 million litres of water. This is roughly 1208.3 l/m.cu…. An olympic sized swimming pool has 1000 l/m.cu – only 208.3 l/m.cu less than captive tanks holding up to 5 orca…….. Let’s get some perspective on this!

    6) captive cetaceans are one of the only animals that are not provided with synthetically accurate habitats in captivity. They are held in a blue box. This would be the equivalent of putting a human being in a blue box for the rest of their lives – well, that is the colour of the sky right? Again… where’s the stimulation?

    7) They cannot hone their foraging and hunting skills because live fish cannot survive in the chemically treated water – not only is this a necessity for survival in the wild but it is a point of social interaction and culture.

    Not to mention, they have to learn to accept dead fish when wild caught.

    8) I’m not going to get into intelligence, stress, etc, except for to outline a study at National Aquarium, Baltimore from the 1980s. Four bottlenose dolphins were deprived of adaptation time and put into a display environment. The loud noises, close proximity to humans and show-time performances induced bleeding ulcers, internal abscesses and other problems. One of the dolphins died.

    They were taken to a quiet pool where they didn’t have to perform and where they didn’t have to interact with humans. They all (except for the dead one) recovered.

    Put back into a performance and display situation and they all fell ill once more.

    This was linked with stress levels.

    Oh, and cetaceans are self-aware – they understand their situation.

    9) Excluding calves, there is a 2.3% mortality rate in the wild for wild orca and a staggering 6.2% in captivity………. male average longevity (wild) is 29.2 years (max. 50-60 yrs), female (wild) 50.2 years (max. 80-90 years).

    10) We have moved away from forcing chimps to have dinner parties in front of paying crowds… why do we still make dolphins jump through hoops? Education? I think not – people don’t leave marine parks wanting to be Zoologists or Marine Biologists – they leave thinking orca are cuddly toys and wanting to become a marine mammal trainer.

    11) This is by no means the first incident that has caused concern for captive marine mammals. Loro Parque, a trainer died there, Christmas 2009. Keltie Byrne, the first trainer to die with the involvement of Tilikum. Daniel Dukes (Tilikum, again). Not to mention the trainers who are now unable to train anymore because of back, neck, leg injuries…

    This isn’t the first time something has happened and this will not be the last. So to say it was an ‘accident’ or a ‘one off’ is to bury one’s head in the sand. And to risk more lives.

    In fact, at Dudley Zoo in the UK, an orca named Cuddles grabbed and pulled into his tank one Mr. Donald Robinson.

    12) Sexual maturity – males, 15 years and females, 10-15 years – this is widely accepted for wild orca.

    It is not a coincidence that Taima died at age 20 during birth (30 years below average longevity for female orca and I don’t even want to think how far off she was from maximum longevity).

    She fell pregnant at 8 years old for the first time. At least two years below expected sexual maturity. She exhibited aggressive behaviour toward Sumar, her first calf, who consequently exhibited disturbing behaviour (hitting his head against the medicine pool he was held in by the age of only 16 months).

    Bearing in mind, orca don’t tend to be weaned from their mothers’ until 1-2 years or even later! Sumar was removed at 11 months! And they usually spend their entire lives with their mothers’.

    13) They argue education:

    SeaWorld – “No one knows for sure how long Killer whales live”.

    What a very loose answer from them and actually, there is a pretty good idea!

    By the way, you know what a T-rex is right? Or a Humpback whale? A Narwhal? Sperm whale – everyone knows Moby Dick right? Well, they’ve never been held in captivity and people know, care, are fascinated and want to protect and conserve them (excluding the dinosaur : P )


    He was captured at age 2 from Iceland. He has subsequently been moved between parks and has been bullied from an early age by other orca. He has been isolated (relatively) as a result of incidents he was present for, not to mention the fact that he is a HUGE boy!

    He is SeaWorld’s only breeding bull – of course they will not retire him, he is worth too much. And in recent email communications, SeaWorld have refused to release the actual amount he is worth/insured for and OSHA say they do not have access to that information.

    It doesn’t take a genius to work out that 6.9 metre-long Tilikum is too big for his tank!

    Nobody knows what went on in Tilikum’s head the day of 24th February. EXPERTS can assess his behaviour prior to the event.

    But what we do know is that one woman died and one orca is left broken and inadvertantly being punished for something that man did to him.

    He knew what he was doing, that’s for sure. Why? We can only hazard a guess. But there has not been one single recorded attack of wild orca on humans, so why this aggression in captivity? In MY opinion – everyone has their limits.

    Many agree that Tilikum can not be released – he has been in captivity for a long while and may pose a threat to humans in the wild. But he CAN be retired. We have a right to retire, why don’t they?

  31. Sam Thank you so much for the info!!
    @ Anne, I am appalled as a tax payer that school children are taken to $eaworld…. In the past I have found that scout troops were using money from fundraisers to go to $eaworld… what the heck does $W have to do with earning badges?? I no longer support any of the scout troops for fear of supporting a trip to $W.. I feel the same for church, school, and any other organization that chooses to use funds to support the captivity and killing of these animals… If we want our children to learn how to kill orcas and dolphins then yes it is educational.
    Are you telling us that there would be no outing for beach clean up etc if it would not be for $W? First how sad is that and second false…. I clean up the beach every time I visit… and so do many other families I know… and guess what they have never been to $W. To me it is sad when those responsible for educating our children use the excuse that these marine parks who are only in existence due to greed… are a place for them to find education about our oceans… I personally would call for those educators to be fired! I do not want my hard earned tax money to be used toward support of $W or any other captive business. I do not want to be part of today’s youth growing up to Believe these injustices can continue. I will be looking into this with my local schools and demand no school funds be used for trips to captive marine parks!

    1. Kathy,

      First, I would thank you to not put words in my mouth. I, under no circumstances said or indicated that Beach clean ups and other conservation efforts would not take place without SW. You have jumped to an extremists view of my posts. I was citing an example as to the inspiration SW offers the children that visit there. And to John, giving a direct example of how a facility such as this, has in my experience inspired conservation. As to the rest of your post, that is you right, to choose to withhold your donations from children, because you do not see eye to eye with the opportunities they are given. It is sad, and narrow minded in my opinion, but then that is mine, and I have the same right to have it as you do yours! Educational facilities, for years, have taken advantage of the value of places like SeaWorld and other top notch zoos and aquariums. Countless millions of students who enjoyed the experience, and will continue to do so. Any parent has the right to withhold their child from going along….however most are smart enough to realize the benefit and are supportive of the programs. The view point of these facilities being only in it out of greed, is rather broad based and sadly lacking in evidence. Luckily, based on years of experience, that view is held by very few indeed.

      Also, just to sooth your mind a bit, Tax Payer dollars do not fund these trips. Community donations, school fund-raisers and generous support and sponsorship from SeaWorld takes care of the expense. So never fear, your pockets are intact. And your choice not to contribute is respected and not terribly needed.

  32. Thank you Sam Orca for the information and facts you presented. I really learned a lot from what you presented. It does appear that this information is not included on the educational Seaworld website. It also seems that the information on the Educational Website appears to be unsubstantiated and simply misleading.

    I had no idea that there many different kinds of Orcas in the wild and they do not associate with each other at all. It seems very apparent that combining Orcas from different groups, and placing them in close quarters in a concrete tank that is forcing them to be very close to each other is going to cause unnatural stress.

    You also bring up a very good point that I think is so important. So many other captive animals are usually in an environment that is close to their natural environment. A giraffe can have trees, grass and the open air etc. But killer whales are contained in a blue box with artificially chilled and treated water. This makes one thing that while certain animals are better well suited to captivity than others. And it is clear that keeping an average 25 foot creature that normally swims hundreds of miles a day in a blue concrete box is not the answer.

    I can’t thank you enough for your information. You bring up a lot of very relevant points that I did not know.

  33. My pleasure Dee.
    Education is key.

    And sadly, SeaWorld (and other marine parks) are evasive, selective and misleading with theirs.

    It does not look good for them to say that wild orca tend to live for 50 years average (females) when theirs are dying much sooner.

    Also, another aspect that people do not tend to think about –

    If you were after a person who specialises in, say, televisions, would you go to someone who owns just one television, where you would be speaking to a person who only has experience with this one TV and thus limiting yourself to one brand and not accounting for the fact that this one TV may have an unusual fault or break, bearing in mind that this TV has been placed in one particular environment with specific effecting variables (i.e. there are kids who kick footballs in the same room as the TV, or dogs who run around and knock things over, etc)…….

    or would you go to the shop where all TVs are made/sold, where someone there has experience with all different makes of TV, all different problems and faults and breakages that may occur, all different sizes and colours, etc?

    I’d rather go the guys that have experience with all different types of TV – and I’d rather go to the guys that have experience with all different ‘makes’ of orca and all the different aspects of their daily lives… where I will get a realistic idea of what goes on in their world.

    And it seems to be that the majority of these orca experts agree on one thing – these animals are not suited to captivity.

    A question I’d love an answer to is why a lot of people would rather be educated by the one man who owns a TV (in this case, SeaWorld) as opposed to the man who spends every day dealing with all types of TVs in a neutral environment (in this case, those in this world who are considered to be cetacean experts because they have spent their entire lives studying wild cetaceans)?

    1. Thank you so much for the information you posted it was extremely interesting to me. One question though, and maybe Tim can help locate it because I can no longer find the link; I just read a link from one of Tim’s stories about scientists studying the size of orca’s brains and I’m pretty sure it stated that scientists expected 3 diverse sets of DNA for the Iclandic, Argentinean and New Zealand whales – not sure if they expected different between the transients and the residents though, that is not really clear to me – but instead found only one single DNA branch. As I’m dumb when it comes to genetics and DNA..how is it possible that the three types of whales would be linked by DNA ? This is not a joke or a poke at you. I don’t get it and would love it explained to me.

      Also to @TimZimmerman thank you those questions you posed in your article. They are all questions I’ve asked myself after listening to different accounts from ex SW trainers and not to mention watching the Australian 60minutes segment. I fail to see how two female whales acting up could not have affected other whales in the back pools. Especially since one trainer noted that one of their calves was acting up, a calf I believe Tili liked to spend time with. I have other questions though after watching Dawn’s Lunch with Shamu session with Tili. She was close and at any time he could have grabbed a hand that was petting him or feeding him fish. At any time he could have raise himself out of the water and knocked her in to the pool with him. She may not have been in the water physically with him but she was still working extremely closely with him. IF Seaworld thought him SOOOO unsuitable for water work or for trainers to be working closely with, why was he used in the Lunch with Shamu session at all? My guess is that in search of the almighty dollar they didn’t care.

      Lastly my questions are for Tili. Was Dawn the only one who worked with him? Did anyone else conduct Lunch with Shamu sessions using Tili? Did any other trainer work with him outside of the Believe or Lunch with Shamu sessions? I too wonder at his ability to know what he was doing at the time. Did he know he was about to run out of stimulation because he knew the show was over? Did he want to extend the session? Or was it simply he was bored because she ran out of fish? In my small mind I feel sorry for Tili, it hurst that I feel he has no one to show him any kind of attention and wonder if he has the capacity to wonder what happened to Danw or to miss her. Then I remember he’s an unpredicatable animal captured from the wild and put in too small an enclosure for his size and “asked” to imitate wild behaviors and I realize maybe he just took his frustration out on the closest human available. Poor Tili and Poor Dawn.

      1. Regarding the DNA – very basically, it is possible that certain orca populations are in the process of or may even have speciated from one another. In other words, there would have likely been a single initial larger population of orca which, as a result of the emergence of geographical barriers (such as the advance of glaciers) and non-physical barriers (such as behaviour and competition) have divided into smaller founding populations… over time, genetic mutations will have arisen (possibly as a result of a population bottleneck) which further differentiate these populations, causing some (but not all) regions of the DNA to change from the original sequence.

        So whilst there is some genetic variation in orca, it is debatable as to whether there is enough to classify them as separate species / sub-species at this time.

        But yes, transients have been found to genetically differ from resident orca populations – as have different groups from around the world been found to differ genetically from one another. This is occasionally apparent in their morphology as well.

        I am not sure how clearly I have worded this but I hope this helps Maryanne (if I have understood your question correctly)

  34. I love your work and always read your orca articles but I just thought you should know a few of your links infected my computer with viruses. I took me 5 hours last night to sort my computer out.

    mainly it was on this page and the tommy lee page.

    1. Jen:

      I’m so sorry. Ugh. Do you know which links on those pages you clicked on, or which caused the virus? Tim

  35. Looks like the whale had been planning the take down for some time…. After she gives the window sign the whale heads past the shallow area. It looks like he was judging the distance he needed. He must’ve known that if he didn’t go to the window she would get in the shallow area. Crocs do the same thing when being hand fed. Seems like hunting behavior, grabbing and drowning the prey. Seems like she was too comfortable with the whale, but this whale shouldn’t be anywhere near people. There could be other opportunities this whale has picked up on. Teeth cleaning, training, it truly is dangerous to be working in close proximity with predators.

  36. Also, I think it wouldn’t matter if the whale is stressed… Meaning that happy or sad, if the opportunity presented itself this whale would strike. He might’ve been waiting years for someone to get into that position. The scary thing is that this whale is used for breeding…. Too dangerous to swim with him, but its safe to swim with his children? I’d say they should issue a recall, but these aren’t happy meal toys.

  37. I know thi is an old post but i feel compelled to reply. I don’t know alot about captive orcas. And i believe its wrong to plop a creature of sound in a reverberation chamber is cruel. However. I do know alot about wild orcas. Something i’d like to point out. Wild orcas do not fight. Matriline is the order of things. Oldest is leader. Period. The end. There is no fighting over leader or probably much squabbles at all. A thought: could it be that as a once wild orca; did he simply just get tired of it? He knew what the order was SUPPOSED to be. Maybe it just got too be to emotionally upsetting. I mean 20 odd years of friends dying. No travel(which he HAS experienced). No mother. No true family. I mean jeez. The poor guy just couldn’t be happy. We know elephants can get depressed or striken with greif and squas their trainers. So why not another emotional being? I think orcas are alot more complex than we currently believe. Go look into what ripping apart families of elephants does. It gets very heartbreaking. So again. Why not orcas? Point is. Bad memories can do alot of bad things. He may have just been so frustrated. So emotionally drained. That this conflict was what pushed him to have a breakdown. I think it was that Dawn was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He knew exactly what he was doing. He killed her because he wanted to. I guarentee you they watch. See how often we go up for air. See our limits. I doubt he was planning it or anything. But he knew. It was intentional. They’re not stupid. I believe they are very smart. Emotional beings. We don’t appreciate that. Saving a baby elephant requires alot of emotional support. Sometimes they dream of the trauma and scream in their sleep. If thats not proof enough that animals can have emotions. You must be a sociopath…

  38. I am almost done reading “Death at SeaWorld” from David Kirby, which inspired me to look up on Tim Zimmermann and finding this blog.
    I find it amazing how many comments are to be found here and all the different opinions. As for me, I have visited SeaWorld twice in my life. Being a native German I was allowed to visit the USA for 5 year period due to my dad’s work. As a ten year old, I first visited a marine park and was swepped away by these beautiful animals and all I ever wanted to be, was to become an orca trainer for the next couple of years! SHAME on me for ever thinking this way…
    In 2010 I last came to the United States to show my husband and son, where I grew up and on our trip I planed to stop by at SeaWorld. I was astohnished (sorry, f I spelled that wrong!) at how many people actually waited in line to get a ticket. And as we finally sat down on the bleachers to watch the one and only “Shamu” in his “Believe” show, I began asking myself, with the point-of-view of an adult, what the heck I was doing here?? I was not able to watch the show without starting to cry. At first my husband thought I was overwhelmed at the sight and the day spend at SeaWorld, but soon understood what was going on.
    NOW, without being an expert of any kind, how in God’s name can ANYONE even think it is right to keep such a huge, far-travelling and highly social animal confined to a tank???
    The point is, I guess, that you don’t have to be an expert to know this is wrong.

    I am very glad, that we do not have marine parks in Germany that keep orcas. Zoo’s holding dolphins are shutting down one by one, because people realise that it is unnatural to keep them “locked-up”.

    This may be a little off topic, but I just had the need to share my point of view.
    Please excuse my spelling and grammar, it’s been awhile, since I actually wrote in English!

  39. Not many people remember, or even know, that in 1980, Sea World had four Orcas (Kotar [ the one in my icon pic ], Canuck II, Kasatka and Katina) that had not yet been subjected to the operant behavior conditioning in the public petting pool where they interacted with thousands of park visitors with no trainer oversight for over a year and no one was ever hurt. They were gentle, friendly and inquisitive towards people who weren’t trying to tease them with fish trying to touch them.

    I spent many hundreds of hours at the wall of the tank patiently waiting and earning their trust. They even gently grabbed my arm in their mouth as Dawn was over a dozen times testing the trust I showed them. I am alive, whole and unharmed. I was under constant observation by the exhibit monitor and once they were consistently coming to me, I was also constantly observed from across the pool by staff from the Orca show, trying to figure out how I got them to come to me since I never tricked them over with fish as most other visitors at the exhibit did. Had I been doing anything improper or unsafe I would have been challenged and possibly ejected from the park. This never happened so apparently everything I was doing was safe as far as management was concerned. Nor am I the only person to have interacted with them in this way.

    Now over three decades later, after all the operant behavior training, food and social depravation they have been subjected to, the only two of the four who are still alive, Kasatka and Katina are considered “problem animals” by Sea World.

    If the Orcas are “such dangerous animals” why where they placed in such an uncontrolled environment where the untrained public could interact with them? Logic would dictate that they are not inherently dangerous but that it is what they have been subjected to over the last three decades in captivity that has done this to them. This is why these now highly trained Orcas are killing and injuring trainers who are ‘specially trained to work with Orcas’ when decades earlier untrained Orcas interacted with untrained humans and no one was hurt. EVER.

    This is a good metric to show just how bad over 3 decades of captivity, and it’s operant behavior training, food and social deprivation provided by parks like Sea World has been for cetaceans. Captivity is toxic for cetaceans and needs to end.

  40. Seeking support beyond limited borders to close “SEA WORLD”. I have been an attorney for eleven years, a U.S. NAVY veteran, and a certified lifeguard. The love and deep respect I’ve always held for the oceans and seas surrounding this planet I’ve carried since 2 yrs of age. Yet, I’ve known nothing about its mammalian wildlife other than the awe, and admiration I held. I always hated SEA WORLD, and though I had plenty of free chances to visit the park, it was to me a “watery circus” borne out of a generation whose conception of entertainment no longer applies; a gross display of capture and the humanoid nervous relief from boredom. I watched “Blackfish”. The last time I tried to do “something” about “something” was over fourteen years ago. I say this in the hopes of providing some basis for my concern and endeavor. I’m not an “activist” in that every desperate issue (and there are plenty) of the 21st century preternaturally evokes the same amount of emotionally charged reaction. This one, this, deplorable presumption of human authority that gave permission to horde these highly intelligent, magnificent creatures, is worth it. This issue, calls for assistance. It’s time. After watching “Blackfish” I’ve researched killer whales to the extent of available material to a mere mortal, and it’s no way near what I feel I SHOULD know. For the more I learned about these mammals, the sicker, sadder, and more stricken I felt. Ashamed; but I’m not keeping them- and that doesn’t matter. I’m allowing it. We all are. So, I’ve started collecting signatures-long story short. And though I’ve done it only once before in my life nd I know it takes time and patience, that previous issue was household knowledge. Now I find if I have to start explaining the neurological complexity and the real PTSD experienced by these wonderful whales, I’ve lost the concentration, interest, and frankly “give a shit” cycle of the American I’m talking to. Let alone the endless grandparent jaunts to the spectacle and magic that is SEA WORLD I’ve endured before the slack jawed shock because I want to close it down. We are not that generation. At one time I’m sure it wasn’t enough. If you’ve lived through world wars and genuine civil unrest it’s not enough just to be in close touchable proximity to a 30ft long, 12-14,000lb beautiful creature smart enough that it’s able to convey and/or communicate that it wants to near you and meet you as well; it had to flip for us too. “Yes they are breathtaking and feel emotional deapths beyond a human’s capacity, but if it can’t touch a ball, dance with its head, or toss a nimble, well-meaning cheerleader from the base of its nostrum, then well, what good is it for?.

    I “believe” our culture and generational perspective, as it stands today, doesn’t need SEA WORLD any more. Those whales belong in the open ocean to swim 100 miles a day. And if anyone wishes to spot them, this planet is surrounded by bodies of water-pick one. So I have this petition I started but as I said, the issue is not compulsive, and I’m only one person. I thought of writing to Paul Watson for advice or assistance but the more I read about him the greater the douche-bag he became. Ok. So, any suggestions? How can I communicate this necessity to the widest range of people as possible. Should I stand by the highway maybe with Tillikum’s picture? Or my petition? At the zoo? Plus, if no one even knows what I’m so upset and desperate about I might as well walk the streets with extra large balloons toggled from my ass.

    Maybe someone out there, an experienced activist with knowledge and connections maybe can help me collect a consensus to close that silly facility down, and to drain out those sad pools lactating a circular journey for those unimaginable whales that have broken my heart and shamed me from my ignorance and stupid, insipid, assignation that SEA WORLD must know what it’s doing. After all, it’s been doing it for over 20 years. I’m trying to hurry. Tillikum will surely die soon. Hopefully not before we can free him, but I’m really gonna feel like shit for a long long time if he dies without once, just once, feels the open ocean again. If not, he will die with only the barest memory from when he was two years old, and taken from his mother-whom he would still be with, right now, next to her, if left in the wild.

    Moreover, based only on what I had the time to find and read, I would bet all the money I don’t have that Tilikum’s mother searches the waters of Iceland and calls beyond its borders, every day, waiting for his reply, and looking for him among all the other pods whose youngsters have grown. A safe speculation of these mammals is that along with all the other complex emotions they feel- hope, is one of them.

    Tell me what I can do to get this done. …until all who belong to the sea are free.

    Thank you

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