SeaWorld officials revealed March 8th, 2016, that the 35-year-old whale has “become increasingly lethargic” and that his health is beginning to deteriorate. In a blog post, officials said that Tilikum has been treated for a chronic lung infection, but his condition has not improved. In a video on the blog, SeaWorld veterinarian Scott Gearhart says he is not optimistic about Tilikum’s future.
“Our veterinarians are focused on managing his illness in a way that makes him comfortable and creates an enriching life,” Sea World officials said.
Tilikum has been with SeaWorld for 23 years, having come from another park, Sealand of the Pacific, located in Canada, which closed in 1992. At SeaWorld, he has been confined to a tank containing 0.0001 percent of the quantity of water that he would travel in a single day in nature. He exhibits abnormal, repetitive behavior, including chewing on metal gates and the concrete sides of his tank. This has led him to wear down his teeth, causing chronic dental problems for years.
This stress hasn’t just harmed Tilikum though. As the film “Blackfish,” depicts, he killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. The whale is also responsible for two previous deaths: a Sealand trainer in 1991, who was killed after falling into his tank and in 1999, a man who entered his tank at SeaWorld after hours.
Since Blackfish aired, things have only gotten worse for Tilikum.
After Brancheau’s death, Tilikum was separated from all other whales and no other trainers were allowed to be in the water with him. He was kept in a tiny enclosure that limited his ability to swim, communicate with other orcas, and interact with humans even further. Video footage captured the tormented whale floating motionless in the water for hours at a time, a behavior never seen in wild orcas.
The tragic aspect of Tilikum’s story is that all of this pain and suffering could have been prevented if he had been transferred to a sanctuary sea pen long ago. As his health deteriorates, it may be too late for Tilikum to receive a life without bars, tricks, or pain, but there is still time to save the 23 orcas left in SeaWorld’s parks. The sorrowful tale of Tilikum’s life in captivity should be a warning to us all of what can happen when we keep wild animals locked in pools the size of a fish bowl, purely for the purpose of entertainment. No trick, stunt, or show can possibly be worth the amount of suffering this orca, or the families of his victims have endured.
Six years after Tilikum became a household name, we must not forget what “Blackfish” was really about. Now more than ever, we must rally together and boycott these cruel facilities and #EmptyTheTanks once and for all. When we stop paying to see animals in captivity, so does the suffering.
Image source: SeaWorld/YouTube