Tilikum was captured from the ocean, taken from his family, and stuck in a small cement cell, less than a hundred millionth the size of the waters he would swim in if left with his family. He was not only forced to perform meaningless tricks for food but also sexually manipulated, his sperm taken to produce more baby orcas for SeaWorld to use and sell. His human captors (who dishonestly call Tilikum part of their “family”—although a family doesn’t kidnap its members from their rightful mothers, keep them in a barren and closet-sized space for life, and exploit them for decades for profit) had been forced to admit that Tilikum was sick, then, finally, that he was dead– perhaps from chemicals in the tank, no one knows yet—but his death was only the culmination of a miserable lifetime of confinement.
SeaWorld’s announcement that it is ending its orca-breeding program came too late for Tilikum, who was forcibly bred 21 times—with 11 of his offspring dying before him. His life was tragic and filled with pain, and the lives of the animals forced to remain in SeaWorld’s tanks and exhibits will be as well. Tilikum should be the last orca to die in misery at a SeaWorld amusement park.
When Tilikum was just 2 years old, he was caught by marine “cowboys” who kidnapped dolphins and orcas to sell to amusement parks. He was stolen from his family—his pod—in the open waters off Iceland and forced to live in tiny tanks and cramped enclosures for the remainder of his life, unable to use his echolocation, to swim away, to travel the oceans, to hear or see his relatives, to do anything that resembled living. He was “trained” to eat what he was given and do what he was told. He was also trained to roll over, which allowed SeaWorld workers to masturbate him with a gloved hand and collect his semen in a container. It used Tilikum as its chief sperm-producing machine, churning out more performers through artificial insemination for a miserable life that no one would ever willingly choose.
Tilikum grew so massive inside the tiny tanks that confined him that he could not escape the aggressive, incompatible orcas who would leave him torn up and bloodied. The constant stress and deprivation drove Tilikum to kill three humans—including trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010—and to wear his teeth to the nubs from chewing on the underwater bars of his prison. It is little wonder that Tilikum succumbed to mental illness under such conditions and, finally, to some incurable physical illness.
Tilikum died without ever again knowing freedom, along with 11 of his children who died prematurely before him and leaving 10 more who will continue to suffer in tiny concrete tanks. PETA is calling on SeaWorld to do the right thing and move the remaining orcas to coastal sanctuaries, where they could enjoy a more natural life, and on caring people to shun facilities that enslave animals for our “entertainment.”
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