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Tilikum is the name of the most notorious killer whale in SeaWorld. Tilikum was snatched from his mother at the age of two off a nearby island located near Iceland; this would start his long journey in captivity. In 1983, Tilikum was captured, sent to a concrete holding tank for a year, where he was shipped to a small marine park. Here Tilikum was immobilized for 14 hours a day in the dark with two female Orcas who consistently bullied Tilikum. When Tilikum is not performing, he is alone and drifts aimlessly. Tilikum is aggressive, has killed three people, but the fault is not Tilikum’s; he is an animal that was not meant for captivity. Researchers believe that the aggressive behavior is because Orcas in captivity endures large amounts of stress daily. In addition, other researchers believe a long lifetime of confinement can make an Orca psychotic (Scientific American, 2014).


On February 21, 1991, Sealand trainer Keltie Byrne fell into the pool containing all three orcas. She was pulled to the bottom of the enclosure by Tilikum, tossed around among the three orcas, and ultimately drowned. It took Sealand employees two hours to recover her body from the orcas. She was the first of three people to have been killed because of Tilikum’s stress, frustration, and confinement. Shortly after the death of Keltie, Sealand closed its doors for good and put Tilikum up for sale as though he were nothing more than a commodity. When SeaWorld heard that a 12,000-lb. bull, the largest orca in captivity, was on the market, it quickly purchased him for its breeding program apparently giving little thought to his reputation for killing and aggression. Tilikum’s sperm was used to build up a collection of orcas, and now, 54 percent of SeaWorld’s orcas have his genes.

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Daniel P. Dukes was the second person to be killed by Tilikum, the largest orca held in captivity. On July 6, 1999, he somehow bypassed security and snuck into SeaWorld Orlando. It is uncertain what his exact time of death was, but he decided to go skinny dipping in Tilikum’s sleep tank. Tilikum then reportedly thrashed Dukes around in the tank and eventually killed him. The whale continued to play around with Dukes’ body until the following morning when Tilly was found parading Dukes’ lifeless body on his back. The whale had reportedly bitten off Dukes’ genitals, caused so many injuries that autopsy reporters were dumbfounded as to what the actual cause of death was and left his face in such bad condition that his funeral had to be held closed-casket. It is possible that Dukes’ death may have been captured on security camera footage, however, SeaWorld has declined to confirm this. There are confirmed pictures of his body being carried around by the whale taken by park employees for reference. These photographs have yet to surface as they are more than likely being held by the FBI, never to be given out for official release(Blackfish2013).


The most recent case of the death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010 brought the world’s attention to the captivity of killer whales. Dawn Brancheau was one of the most senior whale trainer that is allowed to work with Tilikum. The incident occurred during a ‘Dine with Shamu’ experience where guest could eat while watching the killer whale interactions. Dawn fell in the pool and was taken down by Tilikum. Tilikum held her in his mouth, ramming her twice head on and dragging her to the bottom of the pool, holding her there for several seconds. She tried to swim away but to no avail. Tilikum thrashed around violently, flailing her around. By the time the rescuers removed her from his mouth, Dawn’s left arm, ponytail and scalp was not attached to the body anymore. It took SeaWorld twenty-seven minutes to call 911. After Dawn Brancheau tragedy, 11OSHA went after SeaWorld, and a trail began to restrict trainers from getting in the water with Orca whales. In the meantime, SeaWorld had other legal problems, which threatened to shut down the Orca shows for good. OSHA decided that SeaWorld was being careless and leaving employees unprotected. While the investigation was taking place, an OSHA investigator witnessed two different instances where SeaWorld was willfully violating employees’ overall well-being by exposing them to hazardous conditions. The first instance was when a trainer was “dry working” with Tilikum. Dry work means to work with the whales in knee-level or on land. The second instance was a trainer that was engaging with orcas freely. SeaWorld fought back, refusing to let the whale shows end (C. Manning, n.d.).


For many years, SeaWorld has been putting up killer whale shows for human entertainment. The Shamu show is the most well know whale show. Shamu was the name of the first killer whale brought to Sea World San Diego in 1965. “Shamu” is now used to refer to any whale that is performing as a stage name. Throughout the many years of performance, the death of Dawn Brancheau was the most influential and famous incident. This incident gained a lot of interest and made known to many people the problem of captivity for killer whales and how all of this could be prevented if this industry was not created at all. The death of Dawn Brancheau sparked director Gabriela Cowperthwaite to create the documentary “Blackfish” (Cowperthwaite, “Filmmaker: Why I made Blackfish”). “Blackfish” talks about the deaths caused by Tilikum, the dangers revolving around captive killer whales and their intelligence (Hare, “Blackfish: A chilling doc on captive killer whales”). As much as captivity can provide to a killer whale, whale captivity should not be supported due to habitat constraints, animal welfare and ethical issues. Tilikum was used to breed over thirty Killer Whales used in shows. These whales are in contact with trainers daily and the trainers are in danger. They are in danger because killing is in every whale’s blood. What happens when a whale is pregnant under Sea World’s control? After being birthed, the baby Orcas are put in shows. For example, one baby Orca was disrupting the show, so the higher ups of Sea World decided to move her from her mother after three years. They knew this was not how it occurred in the wild, but they didn’t care. According to former SeaWorld trainer Carol Ray, “We separated the mom from the baby. The mom was generally quiet, but that night she stayed in the corner of the pool, shaking, and screaming like they had never heard before” (Blackfish). How can anyone think this is morally right? Orcas are known to travel in tight knit families throughout the ocean. SeaWorld saw the responses from the mothers after they had taken their children away. They heard the grief in their voices. To see that, the trainers described, was heartbreaking. Those whales are intelligent enough to know their family and to care for them. Sea World is supposed to be making it like they are at ‘home’. Tearing families apart resembles nothing from their previous home. The fact of the matter is that whales die sooner in Sea World than in their natural habitat. Also, there are visual differences between wild whales and trained whales. The top dorsal fin on wild whales stands straight up. The top dorsal fin on Sea World whales is slouched over to the side. Sea World claims that all whale’s dorsal fins are like this, but with some research one can find that this is not true.


Works Cited

Cowperthwaite, Gabriella “Blackfish.” Perf. John Hargrove, Samantha Berg, Mark Simmons, Kim Ashdown, Dean Gomersall. Magnolia Pictures, 2013. DVD.

Ray, Sanchez, “Killer whale at center of ‘Blackfish’ dies “, CNN, January 6, 2017,

Brian, Howard, “Why Tilikum, SeaWorld’s Killer Orca, Was Infamous”, National Geographic, January 6, 2017,

Raja, Tasneem. “SeaWorld’s Weird Science.” Mother Jones, vol. 39, no. 6, Nov/Dec2014, pp. 8-10. EBSCOhost,

Chan, Melissa. “Seaworld Should Free Its Killer Whales, Animal Activists Say.” Time.Com, 10 May 2016, p. 1. EBSCOhost,

“The Last Orca to Be Bred in Seaworld’s Confines Has Been Born.” Time.Com, 20 Apr. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost,

John. E. H., & Marilyn E. D.(01-15-1988). Mammalian species: Ocinus orca.