AWI Statement in Response to Death of SeaWorld Orca Tilikum

Friday, January 6, 2017
Tilikum in 2010 - Photo by Dr. Naomi Rose

Washington, DC—Tilikum, the SeaWorld orca who changed the captive cetacean world when he killed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010, has died. He was approximately 36 years of age and the father of many of SeaWorld’s current population of orcas.

Dr. Naomi Rose, Animal Welfare Institute marine mammal scientist, provided the following statement in response to his death:

“Tilikum lived longer than almost any other captive male orca has, but his life was one of deprivation and difficulty. He was captured from the wild as a calf in Iceland in 1983. He lived for several years in a tiny enclosure at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, where he was harassed and bullied by two older females. In 1991, he and the other orcas killed a part-time trainer, Keltie Byrne, treating her as a novel toy when she fell in and eventually drowning her. Once he was transferred to SeaWorld, he was treated as a valuable stud and fathered many calves, about half of whom survive today. He watched over the years as his mates and offspring died or were transferred to other parks. By the end, he was fairly isolated, with some of his favorite companions long gone.

In 1999, Tilikum also killed another person, Daniel Dukes, a young man who stayed in the park after hours and was found dead, draped over Tilikum’s back, in the morning. Autopsy results indicated that Tilikum dragged Dukes around the tank while he was still alive, similar to how he treated Byrne. Dukes eventually drowned, just as Byrne did, but the details of what exactly happened can’t be known, as there were no witnesses. What is certain, however, is that Dukes did not die of hypothermia, as SeaWorld reported at the time and insists to this day.

A necropsy will be performed on Tilikum. Given Tilikum’s global stature, it is essential that SeaWorld make the full results of that necropsy available to the public.

It is long since time for SeaWorld to begin serious consideration of retiring all of its orcas to seaside sanctuaries. Forcing these large, intelligent, socially complex animals to live out their sometimes decades-long lives in barren concrete tanks must end.”

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Media Contact:
Amey Owen, (202) 446-2128, amey@awionline.org