From the Huffington Post:
A killer whale attacked and killed a trainer in front of a horrified audience at a SeaWorld show Wednesday, with witnesses saying the animal involved in two previous deaths dragged the trainer under and thrashed her around violently. Distraught audience members were hustled out of the stadium, and the park was immediately closed.
Obviously, this is a very sad accident. What makes it particularly sad is how very avoidable it was. The whale, Tilikum, had been involved in two deaths before, one in 1991 and one in 1999. And he wasn’t the only marine mammal to suddenly turn on his trainer, even in the last decade:
In November 2006, a trainer was bitten and held underwater several times by a killer whale during a show at SeaWorld’s San Diego park.The trainer, Kenneth Peters, escaped with a broken foot. The 17-foot orca that attacked him was the dominant female of SeaWorld San Diego’s seven killer whales. She had attacked Peters two other times, in 1993 and 1999.
In 2004, another whale at the company’s San Antonio park tried to hit one of the trainers and attempted to bite him. He also escaped.
In December, a whale drowned a trainer at a Spanish zoo.
Then there was the July 1999 incident at the Orlando SeaWorld, when the body of a naked man was found draped over Tilikum.
Daniel Dukes reportedly made his way past security and remained in the park after it had closed. Wearing only his underwear, he ended up in the frigid water of Tilikum’s huge tank.
We should have seen this coming.
Animals in entertainment are very often abused to make them perform. (The circus is particularly infamous when it comes to this.) I have no idea whether this is the case at Sea World. All accounts indicate that Dawn Brancheau, the trainer who was killed, truly loved the whales in her care. But even if the whales are treated well, given lots of pats and treats and praise, they remain enormous and extremely intelligent wild animals who are expected to exist for their entire lives in a small tank. And that’s abuse, regardless of how much you claim to love them.
I can totally understand the draw of Sea World, particularly for animal lovers. Some of my very earliest childhood memories involve trips to small, local dolphin shows on the east coast. The dolphins were named Dottie and (I think) Daisy, and because I loved animals, I loved seeing them perform. I had no idea that they were very likely frustrated and unhappy. The point is that now that I know better, I will not be visiting Sea World. I will not be visiting the Vancouver Aquarium or the zoo. Whatever joy it brings us to see these animals with our own eyes is not more important than the rights of the animals themselves–and they have the right to be free.
Learn more about captive marine animals at the Vancouver-based No Whales in Captivity.