Free the killer whale


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Read More: animal rights, killer whale, sea world, wild animals in captivity

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Jane Velez-Mitchell hosts "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell," a topical event-driven show with a wide range of viewpoints that airs every night on HLN at 7 p.m. ET. An animal activist, she is a member of the board of Animal Cruelty Investigations and a member of PETA.

When it comes to animal exploitation -- follow the money. Using animals for entertainment is big business, plain and simple. The killer whale Tilikum has helped SeaWorld sell millions of dollars worth of tickets.

In the process this highly intelligent, social creature has gone through what we can only assume is hell. The hell is called confinement. Veteran whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed February 22 when the 12,300-pound killer whale dragged her into a tank at the park and held her underwater long enough to drown her. It happened in front of a crowd, just as she was rubbing the whale after a show.

As talking heads debate this avoidable tragedy, few pause to reflect on where it all started. It began in the oceans off Iceland. That's where Tilikum was born. He was born free, free to swim up to 100 miles a day, as killer whales are known to do in the wild.

His idyllic life turned into a living hell in 1983. That's when he was captured. Capture of a wild animal is invariably traumatic. He was put in a small pen. After a stint in a Canadian aquarium that ended in tragedy when a trainer was killed by Tilikum and two other whales, the animal was transferred to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.

Tragedy struck again. First a man who sneaked into SeaWorld was found dead on Tilikum's back. Now, the experienced trainer is dead -- a horrific and violent death.

Tilikum has spent more than a quarter of a century swimming in circles, in a space that critics say would be equivalent to keeping a human being in a bathtub. Would you get resentful, angry, maybe even a little rageful and psychotic if you were kept in a bathtub-sized tank forced to swim in circles for more than 25 years?

The time has come to free Tilikum. Brazil and Chile are just two countries that have created huge coastal sanctuaries, some running thousands of miles, where whales like Tilikum can return to an active life, one in which they can frolic and explore. This is how nature intended these creatures to live.

Zoos and animal amusement attractions use the cover of "science" to justify their shows. Getting a whale to splash kids with water is not science. SeaWorld says it supports wildlife conservation, research and education and has rescued thousands of stranded and sick animals. While many of the handlers are undoubtedly well-intentioned and love the animals, the fact is that parks such as SeaWorld are money-making operations. It's about profit.

There are many ways to help save the whales. Organizations like Sea Shepard, Greenpeace, The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society and -- yes -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals all campaign in various ways to stop the decimation of whales and other intelligent creatures of the sea.

SeaWorld needs to stop using Tilikum to breed. He's reportedly sired 17 calves, some of which have not survived. Those that do survive become part of the system of exploitation for profit.

Nature did not put whales on this earth to splash kids while stuck in a pen. This is the 21st century. It is time to change.


12 Comments | Leave a comment


I am in complete agreement with the author. I would do just about anything in order to free all captive animals. I have a special concern for whales and dolphins in captivity. Is it that people are clueless by accidental ignorance or is it intentional? I don't know. The information is out there, and to me it seems elementary, yet they still don't get it. My boycotting zoos and aquariums hasn't done anyhting to make change. I belong to many animal welfare organizations. I send emails and letters to politicians. What else can I do to help?


Here is the URL for the email form to contact Sea World in Orlando. This is even better than a petition to contact them and ask them to release Tilikum back into the wild. It would give them good press to do right by him, and it would give visitors more confidence that they can expect to enjoy a safe show experience.


This is ridiculous! Had you researched, you'd know this poor animal, though once wild, cannot be released back into the wild. This animal, having been in captivity for so long, would NOT be accepted back into any pod and would perish in the wild alone. The best thing for this whale IS understanding it's species and not releasing him to a cruel existence alone in the wild, but writing seaworld and demanding they not catch NEW species!!!!

Do your research about species BEFORE making ridiculous and ignorant demands about a species. This whale MUST remain in captivity.

Trainers take a risk when making the choice to deal with wild animals. When you take that risk, sometimes it's with fatal consequence.

Write to seaworld and demand good care for this whale and that no more whales or dolphins be wild caught for human entertainment.


I just wrote to Sea World and hopefully many more people will do the same. All these captive wild animals need to be set free. I feel such relief when an elephant is given freedom from a zoo or if Tilikum is set free into the ocean. What a crime it is for humans to exploit animals for their own use whether it be for entertainment, research, clothing or food. I live for the day when all farm animals are released from factory farms.


I just wrote to them too. I really hope that more people become vegans because that truly helps animals the most--I already have 2 other vegans in my family (my sister & brother) so we always feel like we're doing our part to change the world, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving =)


Thanks Deborah. I did write to Sea World again. I believe that I have read about successfully returning whales to the wild. It's really a toss up. Let him live in Hell or let him live, and possibly die, where he belongs.
"Avocadess" you need to calm down a little. Name calling is abusive and should not be tolerated. We need to unite, not divide, if we are going to make a positive change.


No one is name calling.

You can't guarantee a successful release as
it's simply impossible to reintroduce a killer whale to a pod. It's a fact and biology. I see you neglected to post any links or
references on successful killer whale releases. You might do that. I'd like to see it. Not all species are the same and humans who try to humanize species are unresonable.

Hell? Hell is being released to fend for yourself alone and probably starve to death because killer whales hunt in pods. At least this animal will be well fed and cared for in captivity.

Post this succesful releases of domesticated killer whales would you?

Domestic animals can't be released into the wild always. The real issue here is demanding wild caught species be deemed illegal to keep this from happening again.


Um, okay:
Why don't we stick with what we agree on?


Well, that's a lovely story of a very young whale
Who never spent any time in training or in captivity. This
is totally different than the whale at seaworld and proves

The whale at seaworl is an adult and has been trained, fed, and cared for in captivity and cannot be successfully released. Also, do you really think stupid humans would allow
this poor whale to live if released? NO!

You can write and whine all you want about biology you know
nothing about, but that whale will remain at seaworld for the remainder of it's life which is what's best for this particular


Avocadess, you have soured my first experience of writing on this website. This will likely be my last comment. Something you need to ponder: economically, if Seaworld keeps the whale and is expected to feed him indefinitely, how do you expect they will be able to afford it? Yes, by getting new whales & dolphins from the wild and bringing in more $$. More incarceration, more separation of families, depression and no constructive solution. I resent you calling others ignorant when you have no idea with whom you are communicating.



It's too bad you have to blame another for your choice of perceived experience.

So your answer is to be inhumane and with cruel uneducated intention, release an animal who can't fend for itself and won't survive in the wild?

Why don't you donate to seaworld for this whale's upkeep if you're so concerned? That way there won't be any need for more captures.

It doesn't matter if I personally know anyone posting here personally as it's their incorrect data, humanization of non-human species, and ignorance of orca biology that is what is being address. Don't take it personally.

By the way, what makes you correct in what this particular orca feels? Perhaps this animal has no idea it was doing anything wrong, perhaps took play a bit far, or well, only the whale knows for sure. This is a whale, not a human.

The *fact* of this matter IS that this particular whale has been in captivity far too long and cannot, for it's own well being and safety, be released in the wild.

So if you really want to help this animal, donate to it's upkeep and educate yourselves about orca biology and behavior *before* making ridiculous claims and demands.


Two reasons why this whale can't be released and would NOT survive in the wild:

Asked why SeaWorld is holding onto Tilikum, Ventre observed that, "It's in SeaWorld's interests to keep Tilikum and, secondarily, there's no better place for Tilikum than SeaWorld. He gets the best care possible for his particular situation.

Number one, he spends as lot of time surface-resting - a wild orca swims pretty much its entire life.

Number two, he doesn't have any viable teeth left. One of the (things you do when) putting orcas in a facility is that you have to separate them with gates, and what they tend to do is threat-displays at each other to establish dominance. It's a matriarchal society. Tilikum (a male) is a sub-dominant animal in that society. He has a little bit less room to maneuver because of his massive size. He might be the largest animal in captivity. ... So, consequently, his teeth have broken off. And that's why you'll see the trainers every morning and evening using a water pick to flush out the impacted fish that gathers in the remnants of the teeth ... so it doesn't lead to something like an infection.


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