Tilikum Passes Away in Unnatural Habitat

Posted on February 7, 2017 by


On 6  January 2017, Tilikum, the notorious SeaWorld orca, passed away. In 1983, Tilikum was kidnapped from his pod near Iceland when he was just two years old. He was the largest orca in captivity, measuring approximately 22.5 feet and weighing about 12,500 pounds.

Tilikum is just one of the many orcas that have been confined to tanks that are in size equivalent to bathtubs for these enormous sea giants.

In the wild, orcas can swim up to one hundred miles a day. They spend less than 20% of their time at the surface of the ocean, as they can dive to depths as deep as one thousand feet. SeaWorld’s deepest tank reaches only forty feet.

Tilikum was also not the only orca that was torn from the wild. In 1965, Shamu the orca witnessed her mother being harpooned and killed by marine “cowboy” Ted Griffin,  just before Shamu’s capture. Many captive orcas were taken from the wild where they once thrived.

To avoid the discovery of their murder, four orcas had their stomachs slit open for rocks to fill them, had anchors tied to their tails, and then were sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

Tilikum was responsible for three human deaths while he was alive. The three casualties were Keltie Byrne, Daniel P. Dukes, and Dawn Brancheau. Cases of orcas killing humans in the wild has never been reported.

Tilikum spent two years in the wild and thirty-three years in captivity. During that time, Tilikum suffered from lung infections, fractured teeth (something that  most orcas in captivity have, as well as collapsed dorsal fins.), Tilikum had also suffered from injuries related to being attacked by other whales while crammed in his tank.

Fighting is not unusual in captivity, nor the in wild. However, in the wild, the submissive can just swim away. In captivity, the whales are so close together that, usually, the fights escalate.

In 1989, an orca named Kandu had broken her jaw and her artery was severed when she attacked another orca. She bled out as her calf swam circles around her.

Another case is Nakai. In 2012, Nakai had his entire chin torn off when he took part in a fight with another whale.

The gnawing of the inside of the tank is not uncommon. In  fact, almost all orcas in captivity have worn down, if not fractured, teeth. From boredom and stress, these creatures will grind their jaw, chew on the inside of their tanks, and gnaw on the steel gates that separate them from other whales.

A common practice is to drill holes into the orcas teeth. This procedure has continuous risk for infection for the rest of their lives.

“Based on the evidence, I would say that holding orcas captive is not the best idea. If it is possible to create a suitable confinement for these animals, I feel that I would support it. However, if  it is affecting the animal’s well being, as it is now with the orcas, then that is not right,” junior Dylan Claytor said.

To reduce the risk of infection, trainers perform a pulpotomy. This procedure involves no anesthetic for reasons that are unknown.  Also, even if the whales do not need this practice, they receive the drilling and flushing routinely.

The average lifespan for orcas in the wild is estimated to be fifty to one-hundred years. The average lifespan for an orca in captivity, however, is  twenty-nine years. The average age of death for orcas in captivity is thirteen years.

“The whales are conditioned to ‘accept’ the noise, heat, vibration, and obvious pain associated with drilling vertically through the tooth column and into the fleshy pulp below. Success is measured by blood spilling out of the hole, in which case it’s apparent the bore is complete,” a former SeaWorld trainer said in Theorcawordpress.com.

Tilikum had this procedure conducted upon him three times a day, as do many other other orcas to this day.

“I support the  idea of helping to rehabilitate and care for animals that have been harmed; however, I do believe in releasing them back into the wild.” science teacher science teacher Mrs.  Stephanie Skelly said.

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