The recent news of the death of Tilikum (aged 35), the famous captive Orca, created world-wide news, coming, as it did, hard on the heels of the death of Granny, the oldest-known wild orca.
That stark comparison seems to have a struck a chord with many, including my good friend and colleague, Samantha Goddard.
Here is her Guest Blog.
I was truly shocked when I read aloud the news that Tilikum, the most famous orca in captivity, had died on Friday 6th January 2017. He had long suffered deteriorating health due to a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection, and yet his death still shocked me and millions of others.
I can still remember the first time I saw Tilikum. Following the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, there was a flood of footage on newsmedia around the world about orcas in their tanks. One of them was, of course, Tilikum, the largest of them all. I remember seeing an aerial shot of him in the medical tank, not much larger than his own body. That image has always stayed with me; an epitome of injustice.
Following his capture from the waters off Iceland in 1983, aged just 2 years old, Tilikum was held in captivity for 33 years, spending the last 24 of those at SeaWorld Orlando. In 2010, he became the most talked about orca in the world after he killed trainer, Dawn Brancheau. This was why I first saw Tilikum in the news, and incidentally why film director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, decided that his story was one that had to be told to the world – and tell it she did.
In 2013, the film documentary, Blackfish, was released. It exposed, in a heart-breaking and truly shocking way, the real plight of orca in captivity, the capture, the wasted lives of confinement, the injuries and tragedies, the exploitation. Blackfish was a smash hit, having now been seen by more than 100 million people.
Following its success the public attendance fell, profits fell, the stock price fell (and continues to fall) and reputation of SeaWorld – a company that once seemed untouchable – sank. This sea-change is down to a growing sense of uneasiness amongst members of the public and the campaigning efforts over decades of organisations such as Born Free. But more than that, it was down to Blackfish, and one in particular – Tilikum.
The loss of Tilikum is a cause of great sadness, but not the only one we have recently had to accept. The news of Tilikum’s passing came just two days after the death of the world’s oldest-known wild orca, Granny. On 4th January 2017, The Centre for Whale Research announced Granny’s presumed passing. She was estimated to be 105 years old (born in approximately 1910) and enjoyed a life of freedom in the wild. This is a stark comparison to the life led by Tilikum, who endured life in a tank for over thirty years. Despite these shocking differences, both lives should be equally celebrated, for they both remind us that our continued flight for the plight of these animals in captivity is something that will never waver until all the tanks are empty. They remind us that, despite all the challenges, wildlife belongs in the wild.