So remember last February when the Killer Whale, Tilikum, at Sea World killed the trainer who was alongside the water? She got pulled under by her ponytail and drowned? Remember that?
Such a tragic story. Kids who were present were traumatized, parents lost their daughter, colleagues lost their friend and SeaWorld lost its main performer when they had to take Tilikum out of the show.
Jason and I were discussing this last night because it was news that the Killer Whale was back and performing again as of yesterday. Where was he for 13 months? Did they put him in time-out? How does one punish a killer whale?
I fully understand that the death of a person, in front of a crowd, is very news-worthy. What isn’t news-worthy, though, is that the whale “did something wrong.”
The whale is an animal. Trained, it’s still an animal. A wild animal that happens to know how to follow a few directions and do some fancy-dancy tricks.
Killer Whales, aka Orcas, are certainly beautiful. They are majestic creatures and always appear to be smiling, so who wouldn’t love them? If it’s smiling it can’t be BAD, right?
But the bottom line is this:
It can’t be expected to not do what it was born to do. You can’t unlearn those things, especially when you’re not a human.
The trainers, however, can understand. I’m going out on a limb here, and I hope this isn’t offensive to any whale trainer friends I may have (which is approximately zero), but when you sign up to swim with and train KILLER WHALES, it seems like *maybe* you’re signing up for a potentially deadly job.
And then you voluntarily get into a tank (or even near a tank) with a whale that has already killed 2 other people? I just… I don’t understand.
Tilikum, in 1991, was one of 3 whales that killed a woman in a tank in British Columbia. In 1999, a man was found dead in the tank with Tilikum, though he apparently stayed in the park after closing and got in the tank on his own free will (idiot) (also not a deliberate “Free Willy” reference, but kinda funny anyway).
Why would one who knew about the previous killings get in a tank or even NEAR a tank, with a KNOWN KILLER killer whale, a WILD animal? Why, though it’s horribly tragic, would anyone be surprised that a KILLER whale would be capable of KILLING another human after his history?
We take these animals out of their native environments, put them in a tank, try to teach them tricks and expect them to domesticate and forget all of their God-given instincts. This is wrong in so many ways. Animal rights aside, entertainment potential aside, removing the essence of the creatures is impossible.
So if we want to enjoy them as entertainment, though I have personally never been to a SeaWorld show or a live whale show of any sort, we need to enjoy them as that. But as the deadly, wild creatures they are and knowing that even by just going to a show it could be potentially dangerous.
And if you’re going to be an animal trainer to a killer whale or a tiger, bear, rhino, whatever, just know you are taking your life into your own hands. AND putting it in the paws and jaws of a wild creature. SeaWorld (and other places like it) isn’t forcing trainers to do this. They applied for the job, trained and desired to be a whale trainer. They are free to quit if they feel in danger, but they don’t. It’s what they want to do with their lives. And that’s cool. The employer does expect them to do it once they’ve signed on to be an employee, but it’s their choice to stay or go so blaming the employer just ain’t gonna fly (unless they’ve done something truly against the rules).
I’ll continue to feel sad when someone gets hurt or killed, but I WON’T be surprised that it’s because they were handling a wild creature that they desired to train, handle and interact with. It’s dangerous. And they choose to take that risk.
(Side note: I know SeaWorld has taken safety precautions before bringing him back, including a steel cage type thing for the trainers to stand behind, but it’s just a matter of time before something like this happens again. I’m not a huge “OMG FREE THE ANIMALS” person but when you’re talking wild KILLING animals, I probably lean that way. Aquariums are slightly different because they tanks are enclosed. I’m not here to challenge, discuss, debate animal rights or cruelty. Just fyi.)
Photo Source: ScottKinMartin via Flickr