Seeing is Believing: Tilikum’s Lonely Life after Dawn.
Since the death of animal trainer, Dawn Brancheau, at SeaWorld Orlando in February, the marine mammal park’s officials have maintained that Tilikum, the killer whale involved in her death, continues to live a rather stimulating life. From the SeaWorld Parks Blog: “Tilikum’s day continues to be filled with variety and stimulation, including time with other whales, participating in training, husbandry, exercise and playtime sessions and the opportunity to breed.”Many have questioned if SeaWorld is indeed providing quality “care” for Tilikum (aka, Tilly or Tili) and if he continues to lead an enriching life in captivity as new rules were imposed which limits his interaction with trainers and the other orcas. There has been deep concern for how his reported isolation may affect the well-being of this intelligent, social animal. After two full days observing Tilly and his caretakers, one woman tells her story of what she saw. Is SeaWorld living up to its claims?
On February 24th, 2010 – at SeaWorld in Orlando Florida, a captive Orca (Killer Whale) named, Tilikum, brutally killed his longtime trainer, Dawn Brancheau. Ever since that fateful day the question keeps coming up; what will SeaWorld do to enrich this orca’s life and make his time there meaningful and worthwhile?
Orcas are held captive at facilities in North and South America, Europe and Japan, providing entertainment for theme park visitors. Currently there are 42 in captivity worldwide. SeaWorld and its chain of marine mammal parks in the United States is the largest owner of captive orcas in the world. In fact, they own more than half. Currently they have an inventory of 19 Killer Whales who are dispersed and or moved around between parks in Orlando, FL, San Antonio, TX, (6) and San Diego, CA (6). At this time, 7 of them are housed at SeaWorld in Orlando. SeaWorld also has 4 Killer whales “on loan” to Loro Parque in Tenerife, as well a new baby, bringing the total to 24 that SeaWorld owns world-wide.
Tilikum is the largest male orca on record in captivity weighing in at 12,500 pounds (5,600 KG) and reaching a little over 22 feet in length (6.9 Meters). He was captured near Iceland in November of 1983 at about two years of age and sent to live at Sealand of the Pacific in B.C., Canada. He was obtained by SeaWorld and moved to Orlando to become their prize stud in January of 1992 after he killed a female trainer who fell in the water in 1991. In 1999, Tilikum was involved in the death of a man who stayed in the park after hours and was found dead in the pool the next morning. This latest incident with killing his longtime trainer, Dawn Brancheau, brings Tilikum to a total of 3 deaths which are linked to him.
*As a sidenote; there have never been any recorded deaths of humans by Killer Whales in the wild to this day.
Since the brutal and untimely death of Dawn Brancheau, SeaWorld has kept Tilikum out of the show “Believe” where he was the star of the “Splash” segment. One of his primary jobs at SeaWorld is (was) to come out towards the end of the show and spray the first 15 rows with water as he circled the pool. His other job there is to provide semen through mating or Artificial Insemination (AI) for the breeding program that continues today.
For the past 6 months (now 11), while SeaWorld conducts their own internal review, they have completely kept him from doing his segment in Believe. Considering OSHA handed down their report along with citations of “willful” negligence to the safety of their trainers on August 24th, it begs the questions: what does he do with his time? Why does SeaWorld hold on to him verses retiring him to a sea pen? What are they planning on doing with him in the future? And now that trainers are not allowed to come into contact with him, even at the water’s edge without a barrier, what does he do for stimulation? There are so many questions, so I went to see for myself what his days are like. (It should be noted that since this story was written in September, I have gone back to see Tilikum regularily. His condition and ‘lifestyle’ has not changed. As of January 20th – Tilikum has been kept in isolation for 330 days, and counting.) Read on.
When we arrived the first thing in the morning on day 1, Tilikum was alone in the back pool (E pool) which has a covered awning. The 6 other whales were spread out between the two front pools (B and C). When the gates are opened, they are able to continue on into the F pool and proceed directly into the Dining with Shamu pool (G pool). This area has 3 underwater viewing windows in which guests of the park can view them when they swim by.
SeaWorld in Orlando has 7 pools in all, A – G. The section where “Believe” takes place is referred to as the “A” pool. D pool is a medical pool with a false bottom. Kalina ( who died suddenly and unexpectedly on Oct 4), Kayla, Trua, Katina – (who gavebirth on Oct 9, 2010 ), Malia and Nalani (two small females) were relatively free to move around the Dine with Shamu pool and back into the F, C and B pools. Tilikum, however, was kept gated in E pool by himself. Yet, the workers I spoke with say they are all (including Tilikum) moved around throughout the day and are free to come and go as they please. This is simply not true. Tilikum was never able to come and go as he pleased.
Under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) separation is prohibited per 9CFR, section 3.109 – Separation.
Marine mammals, whenever known to be primarily social in the wild, must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species, except when the attending veterinarian, in consultation with the husbandry/training staff, determines that such housing is not in the best interest of the marine mammal’s health or well-being. However, marine mammals that are not compatible must not be housed in the same enclosure. Marine mammals must not be housed near other animals that cause them unreasonable stress or discomfort or interfere with their good health. Animals housed separately must have a written plan, approved by the attending veterinarian, developed in consultation with the husbandry/training staff, that includes the justification for the length of time the animal will be kept separated or isolated, information on the type and frequency of enrichment and interaction, if appropriate, and provisions for periodic review of the plan by the attending veterinarian. Marine mammals that are separated for nonmedical purposes must be held in facilities that meet minimum space requirements as outlined in §3.104.
When the workers at the window told me (no less than 6 of them I spoke with) that they keep him away from the females at times because, “You know how frisky males can be.” I answered with, “Well then why not use birth control?” They said that, in SeaWorld’s opinion, it may mess with their brains.” These are answers that all of the workers at the DWS windows are telling people. I found it baffling because birth control is something that SeaWorld has absolutely used with their orcas in the past.
We watched the first show on day 1 which starts at 12:30 pm. They open the stadium approximately 45 minutes before the show. Trainers came by at noon to hose Tilikum down for about 3 minutes and after that gave him some fish. They then rinsed out his mouth which is a necessary part of his daily routine because most of his teeth have been > manually drilled and are all but gone. <(See link.) The trainers spent no more than 7 minutes total with Tilikum before getting ready for the show to begin.
Tilikum swam in slow circles or surface rested in the E pool and did so the entire show. At the time when the others were out having fun interacting with their trainers, he’s secluded off as though he is some outcast, and, without so much as a toy to play with. In the afternoon on the first day, the trainers brought a few of the whales to the F pool to have a training session. Tilikum was still alone in the E pool.
When waiting in the stands for the second show of day 1 to begin and watching Tilikum, I saw him being moved from the E pool to the Dining with Shamu pool (at 6 pm) and quickly left the show and went straight over to see him up close through the viewing windows. When he arrived to the pool he was given some minnow sized fish and, lucky for him, one of them had landed on the bottom. He came up to the window (showed his mouth – photo above) and then went down and picked up the little fish and swam around the tank in a circle with it in the tip of his mouth. It was as though it was his little toy and amusement for the time. After 30 minutes, it finally fell apart, he lost interest, and let it go. We stayed there until closing at 7:10 pm.
Coming back early the next morning and seeing Tilikum in the same pool all by himself was quite startling. He was simply logging (bobbing) listlessly and did so for nearly 3 and a half hours. He has nothing else to do but bob in the water. Here at the Dining with Shamu pool viewing window, there are employees who are stationed in one hour intervals in order to answer guest questions. When I asked the workers, “Why doesn’t he have any toys or something to play with?” – all four of them gave similar answers, such as: “We don’t want him to get bored with a certain toy so we change it up now and then.” Or, “For enrichment purposes they don’t want him to get too used to playing with the same things so they change his ‘routine’ often.” Shocking and disturbing answer.
When I told the workers as I watched him “napping” for over 3 hours that this type of behavior isn’t typical in the wild, they argued that it was. I said, “Not really because, orcas don’t normally sleep by themselves. In the wild they get close to their pod mates (Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins), synchronize their breathing, keep moving, and still dive – unlike Tilikum here who is vertical and bobbing in the water.” The answer they gave to this was attributed to the fact that he is an Icelandic “transient”, therefore implying that transients are drifters and spend time alone. Of course I said, “That is not true, transient means they typically feed off other mammals such as seals and dolphins versus “residents” who are fish eaters.” Another point is – no one knows for sure if Tilikum was a transient or a resident when he was captured. Either way – both transient and residents stay together in matriarchal pods and have close family bonds for life. In fact, if he had never been captured from the wild, he’d be swimming next to his Mom at this very moment. Something that Tilikum doesn’t have in this artificial setting at SeaWorld – a family pod. Sadly, it is quite clear he is kept completely alone, something that would never happen in the wild.
Again, the thing that really bothered me was the fact that Tilikum did not have one toy in his pool – and since he is kept there alone – it would have been nice to see him at least playing with something. That said, I did not sleep over night in the park but, at a time when SeaWorld is under a microscope due to the penalties handed down recently by OSHA, you would think that during the day when the trainers are there and people (guests) are watching – they would do something more with and for him. I stayed at the pool and watched him from the first thing in the morning, until closing time. He did not have one toy, therefore, barely moved.
Also, in the morning of day 2 – (where he wound up staying by himself again until 6 pm when they moved him back to the E pool) – it is clear SeaWorld is also in violation of another AWA regulation about leaving a marine mammal under the elements without a shaded area for him to hide under in order to protect himself from the blazing Florida sunshine. E pool has a covered awning to protect the whales – Dining with Shamu pool, does not. He was there under the sun for no less than 10 hours.
AWA regulations state under 9CFR Section 3.103 (b). Facilities, outdoor. Shelter.
Natural or artificial shelter which is appropriate for the species concerned, when the local climatic conditions are taken into consideration, shall be provided for all marine mammals kept outdoors to afford them protection from the weather or from direct sunlight.
It also should be noted that Tilikum’s security guards are afforded shade in the form of an umbrella or covered awning.
As a person who has been monitoring the SeaWorld Orlando fan page of FaceBook over the past 6 months, what you are being told is happening with him by SeaWorld, and what is actually happening are two very different stories. When you ask SeaWorld, “What are you doing with Tilikum and what are his days like?”, they give you the same answer. “He is still interacting and socializing continually with the other whales, he gets just as much interaction, play, stimulation from the trainers and is doing very well.” – then they post this blog for reference. http://www.seaworldparksblog.com/explore/blog/update-tilikum
Here it says that “Tilikum is no exception”, however, he is an exception. He is now linked to 3 deaths and clearly has issues with a couple of the other females as they are dominant over him, don’t blend well socially, so therefore, they are separated. Taima – Tilikum’s old mate who in June of 2010 died due to complications while trying to give birth for the 4th time in her short 20 years of life – was Tilikum’s “best friend”. The two were often together and now that she is gone, he is utterly alone.
As an aside, MMIRs obtained from NMFS FOIA state that Taima died from Uterine Prolapse. Prolapse is caused by a stretching of the ligaments that support the pelvic organs, causing those organs to stretch and ‘drop down’. And that is caused by her being breed far too young and far too often. It took her nearly 24 hours of labor before she finally died. It must have been a horrible and painful for her. Moreover, they couldn’t do anything and, in fact, didn’t know what to do (obviously), which simply reinforces the point that they should not be breeding whales in captivity.
Trua (a male orca) and Tilikum are friendly, however, in the 2 days I watched them – they were not put together one time. In fact, Tilikum was alone from 9 am on the morning when we arrived, until 7 pm the on the second day.
After viewing Tili for nearly 10 hours – two days in a row – I witnessed him in total isolation from the others over the course of those 20 hours. The others were allowed to mingle with each other, however, Tilikum was not given that opportunity on those two days. Now, again, I did not sleep overnight at the park but, Tilikum arrived from the E pool to the Dining with Shamu pool on day 1 at 6 pm sharp. He was still there at 9:00 am the next morning on day 2. Did they put a companion in with him at 7:30 pm – and take them out before 9:00 am? He was in a slumber when we arrived on day 2 so, I highly doubt it.
One cannot help but wonder – as sentient, intelligent, and aware these great beings are – how does Tilikum feel these days? He is definitely not appearing to be enjoying his time whatsoever. He barely moved from 9 am in the morning on day 2, and simply rested all day long until it came time to be fed. Once at 1 pm, 3 pm and 6 pm when they came with a bucket of ice and a few fish in order to lure him to go through the gate back to E pool.
If he wasn’t sitting completely still, he moved 20 or 30 feet to go back and forth to the gate to peer over at the other whales having a training session. At one point during the end of the first Believe show on day 2, he went to the gate of the Dining with Shamu pool and tried nibbling on it as though he wanted out. He surely hears the activity going on. Even I could hear the show and my primary sense is not acoustic as his is.
He has to wonder — why? Why is he secluded, basically ignored and given no outer stimulation from an inanimate object such as a big ball or giant frisbee? Where did Taima go? And why can’t I be in the show? It’s heart-breaking really. Any sentient being would go out of their mind in such a situation. If they thought that Tilikum was dangerous towards humans or on the receiving end of aggressive behavior by the other orcas in this false pod situation before; what will happen to this poor soul if they continue to keep him separated, isolated, ignored, neglected and without the constant stimulation he deserves?
What I saw was totally unexpected. To be perfectly honest, I really thought he would have been with at least one of the other whales, interacted more with the trainers, and least of all, be active of his own volition throughout the day. He was none of these things. The word that kept coming to my mind and out of my mouth as I sat there watching him without pause was — “pathetic”.
I truly hope that SeaWorld will do the right thing and start looking into donating him to a foundation that is ready, willing and able to give him a better life such as one in a coastal sea pen. He could surely learn how to feed on his own once again, and even if he does not, there are caring human beings who would be more than happy to take care of his needs for the rest of his days. To think that he has the potential to live for a few more decades, it would be a tragic waste of a beautiful life if he continues to languish in such mundane conditions. Here is a small video by Dr. Naomi Rose of the HSUS. The loneliest whale in the world, Tilikum.
It is time to retire this beauty and get him in a setting that nature intended.
~ By Colleen Gorman
As a sidenote: Since this was written, I have been back to the park on a regular basis to see Tilikum. He is still isolated and not much has changed in this poor soul’s life. They do not introduce him or even refer to him at the beginning of the Believe show as they do with the 6 others (including the new baby which arrived in October). By keeping the pressure on SeaWorld and the awareness on Tilikum, we hope that they will have the heart to start treating him like part of the family versus the black sheep.
To view more photos go to: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2057428&id=1175597100&l=4c41576fef
To view more videos go to my YouTube channel @ http://www.youtube.com/user/CgColleenGorman?feature=mhum
*To report violation of Animal Welfare Act:
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Room 1147 South Building
Washington, DC 20250
Phone: (202) 720-2511