Dawn Brancheau died in the violent clutches of animals she loved very much.
On Wednesday, a female trainer at SeaWorld was killed when a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum (“Tilly”) grabbed her by the ponytail, dragged her under water, and thrashed her about in his jaws. Twenty audience members, lingering after a production of “Dine With Shamu,” witnessed the act. It was the third human death Tilly has been involved in, and yet the park has no intention of euthanizing him, partly because his motives were unclear. Was his intent to kill, or was it an accident, the result of roughhousing with a mammal 1/100th his own size?
No one knows. But the stresses of captivity seem responsible. Captive orcas often decline to eat, and are force-fed until they do. And while there are no known cases of an orca killing a human in the wild, around two dozen cases exist of captive orcas attacking humans.
In response, SeaWorld, whose brand-image depends on friendly-looking killer whales, has found itself in a public-relations quandary akin to what Accenture experienced with its “Go on. Be a Tiger” ads.
But didn’t she love this whale beyond reason?
Tilly was sold to Sea World from Sealand in British Columbia, CA after killing a trainer there in play. This sale was allegedly made with the understanding that Tilly wouldn’t be used in shows at Sea World, but that didn’t fit Sea World’s bottom line. The trainer used to say “Tilly” was like her family. Sorry, that sounds very off to me and it always will. Conservatories or refuges are different stories, but I am just not a fan of playing games with animals who have no extended history of domestication. Scientific study is one thing, but we just don’t need stupid pet tricks performed by the most violent natural killers in nature.