SeaWorld has been embroiled in a never-ending line of controversies this year. First, there was the release of the documentary film “Blackfish“, which painted a scathing critique of the suffering endured by their captive whales. Then came the announcement that they were building an underwater treadmill for their orcas, in what appears to have been a publicity-fueled attempt to make their captive state seem more acceptable. And let’s not forget their 27-foot Thanksgiving Day float that has been slammed by marine activists.
Now, Samantha Berg, a former employee of SeaWorld’s Orlando theme park (who also appeared in “Blackfish”) has accused them of putting human lives at risk in order to boost their profits.
Her complaint involves Tilikum, a 23-foot long bull orca who was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983 and has sired 21 calves – eleven of whom are still alive. Tilikum drowned SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 and was also connected with two other deaths: that of Katie Lee Byrne at Sealand of the Pacific in 1991, and Daniel Dukes at Orlando in 1999.
Berg is claiming that SeaWorld is continuing to collect Tilikum’s sperm and using it to impregnate females, and that several of his offspring – including Kyuquot, who attacked a trainer in Texas during the nineties – have displayed violent tendencies.
“(H)e should never have been allowed to breed. It’s completely unethical to breed an animal that’s shown a history of aggression. It comes down to money – killer whales are worth millions so you are not going to put one down,” said Berg. She also stated that SeaWorld misled staff over the deaths of Tilikum’s first two victims and overturned a rule that trainers were not to have direct contact with him in 2008 – a decision that may have been a causatory factor in Brancheau’s death two years later.
Berg implies that the stress and frustration experienced by orcas when they are forced to live in captivity – depicted so clearly in “Blackfish”– may have caused Tilikum to become violent.
“What I wonder about Dawn is if she ever knew that Tilikum had a history of pulling people in … he reacts out of frustration and boredom after being cooped up since he was two years old,” Berg said.
One thing is certain: the concept of keeping these creatures in a state of captivity and forcing them to perform tricks needs to be urgently re-evaluated, before even more lives are lost.
Image Source: Milan Boers / Flickr