Saturday, January 07, 2017

Orca Tillicum Dies

After a lifetime of captivity and illness in his older years, the orca who became infamous for killing two handlers, Tillicum, died at SeaWorld in Orlando, FL.  Tillicum raised our awareness of the suffering and abuse captive whales endure to provide 'entertainment' for humans.  He was the subject of a documentary, "Blackfish" that was instrumental in pushing SeaWorld into ending its captive breeding program last year. {18.03.16} The theme park did not reveal the cause of his death at about 36, as a necropsy has yet to be completed.  He was afflicted by a persistent bacterial lung infection.

AP: Tillicum with Dawn Brancheau, killed during a performance
Besides his physical aliments many informed observers think that large captive orcas suffer mental illness too, due to their long confinement in small, featureless tanks.  Confined orcas show signs of stereotypic behavior exhibited by other caged animals, such as gnawing on gates and walls.  This behavior wears down their teeth even though they are fed fish directly into their gullets by their captors. Broken, worn teeth can lead to life-threatening infections. Some animal advocates think that Tillicum killed two humans because he suffered emotional or mental trauma related to his captivity.  Orcas are intensely family oriented, even more so than humans, and confinement disrupts these essential relationships.  The documentary in which Tillicum was the main subject, argues that keeping orcas in tanks makes males more aggressive. Former trainer John Hargrove said, "He lived a tortured existence in captivity.  All whales do, but if you had to pinpoint one of them, hands down I would say Tillicum."

Recent research lends credence to the conclusion that large, intelligent mammals such as whales suffer in captivity.  A study of Asian elephants shows that elephants working in forest lumber camps in Myanmar live twice as long as captive elephants.  Certainly working elephants are not free, and their work is strenuous, but they still enjoy a relatively natural environment during their lives [photo: Getty Images]. Sea World says an orca's life expectancy in captivity is 47 years, comparable to wild female orcas, but some scientists say this figure is not accurate.  They say their life expectancy is more on the order of 20-30 years.  SeaWorld planned to build bigger tanks with features that might be attractive, but orcas are known to swim one hundred miles a day, and the bigger tank plans are on hold now that the breeding program has ended.

Tillicum lives on in his many offspring.  He sired fourteen calves since he arrived at Sea World from a Canadian theme park in 1991.  Tillicum was born off Iceland where he was caught and taken to Canada to begin his more than three decades of custody. He was a large male, weighing over eleven thousand pounds, and twenty-two feet in length. SeaWorld still owns 29 orcas, half of which are under age 15.  May Tillicum's death be not in vain. Humans should look elsewhere to be entertained, and all captured orcas set free into sanctuaries, if necessary.  Thank you so much, Tillicum.