Blackfish: Never Capture What You Can’t Control

by Holladay Allen

Native Foods Cafe



Last weekend I went and saw
Blackfish when it opened here in Chicago. 
And I highly implore everyone to go see this documentary.  Blackfish pretty much chronicles the
life of Tilikum, a killer whale that has been in captivity for 30 years
now.  Tilikum was captured off the
coast of Iceland in November of 1983. 
He was about 3 years old at the time of his capture.


 Tilikum was placed in a
“marine park” in Canada after his capture with 2 older female orcas.  This “park” was a slot in a marina (with
boats) and the whales were contained by a net.  This is where the whales entertained during the day, but at
night they were placed in a pitch black holding container that measured 20 feet
deep by 28 feet in diameter. 
Because he was at the bottom of the social hierarchy and the trainers
used food deprivation as part of their methods (food was withheld if tricks and
commands were not completed), Tilikum was picked on and abused by the two
female whales.  One of the forms of abuse
is called raking, where killer whales will scratch other whales with their
teeth, drawing blood and creating deep ridge like cuts in the victim’s
skin.  (One thing this film does
talk about several times is the orca on orca abuse that happens all too often
in captivity, including raking and even killing.) 

Sealand-2Native Foods Cafe vegan restaurant uses this inage courtesy of Oak Bay Marine Group.


Tilikum was obviously under
stress, as were the other two, in such reprehensible conditions.  The first death at the fins of Tilikum
took place here.  A young girl who
was hired to feed the orcas, fell into the tank and was pulled under and drowned
by the whales.  Two eyewitnesses in
the movie claim that it was Tilikum who participated in most of the foul
play.  They knew it was him because
of his collapsed dorsal fin. 
(Dorsal fin collapse in wild orcas is about 1%, but most males in
captivity experience dorsal collapse). 


Native Foods Cafe vegan restaurant ues this image courtesy of The Orca Project.


The decision was made to
close the park, and Tilikum was sold to SeaWorld Orlando in January of 1992.  
Tilikum is of incredible
value as he is one of the few bulls in captivity, and has sired most of the
whales at SeaWorld in the past 2 decades. 
That is probably why he is still a part of the SeaWorld “festivities”
even though he was responsible for his second human fatality in February
2010.  A park-goer, who decided to
circumvent security and stay after hours at the park ended up in Tilikum’s
tank.  Although there are cameras
all over SeaWorld, no one seemed to notice the dead guy in Tilikum’s tank.  Until the next morning when trainers
arrived to find the naked tourist atop Tilikum’s back being “paraded” around
the tank by Tilikum.  The man’s genitals
had been removed. 

PHO-10Feb24-207315_2 Native Foods Cafe vegan restaurant uses this image courtesy of The Washington Post.


So this leads up to Tilikum’s
3rd attack on a human, Dawn Brancheau.  She was the senior trainer at SeaWorld and during a Dine
with Shamu dinner performance, Tilikum pulled her under the water, drowned her,
scalped her, severed her spinal cord…. there were many more injuries.



So after the death of Dawn, OSHA
sued SeaWorld basically saying that SeaWorld is placing their staff in danger
by having them directly interact with killer whales.  Well duh, right? 
And of course SeaWorld denied everything, after all, he is, in the words
of Tommy Lee, “SeaWorld’s Chief Sperm Bank.”  There was a rule implemented that SeaWorld employees could
not have direct interaction with the whales, including using raised guardrails…. but I am not sure if this is still being enforced… and when the employees are
harvesting Tilikum’s sperm for artificial insemination, they are definitely in
full contact with this giant whale.



That is basically the
synopsis of the film, but Gabriela Cowperthwaite does such a great job speckling in a lot of
other stories & facts about killer
whales in captivity.  Stories of
mothers and grandmothers grieving the loss of their children for days, orcas
screaming as their babies are taken from them in the wild (SeaWorld and other
marine parks just take the babies, as they are the cheapest to ship
internationally.  This is a
business, remember?).  I could go
on and on recounting the crazy, messed up things that are happening to killer
whales in captivity… but you should just go see the movie… and never, ever support
parks with animals in captivity, including zoos.




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