Photo: Milan Boers / Flickr
Born Free USA, a global leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, is deeply saddened by the news that Tilikum, a captive orca exploited for years by marine parks, has died. Tilikum was featured in the acclaimed 2013 documentary Blackfish, which galvanized public outrage against the mistreatment of orcas at Seaworld.
According to Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, “Tilikum died as he lived – suffering in a concrete tank in front of humans. It is horrific that whales like Tilikum languish in captivity for the benefit of a greedy few who exploit them. But we are confident that the current captives in America’s marine parks will be the last generation forced to pitifully cling to life in this way.”
John Hargrove, the Seaworld trainer featured in the film Blackfish and author of the bestseller Beneath the Surface, told Born Free USA, “Tilikum was a gentle and motivated whale with a tremendous personality. He was often brutally raked by the dominant females he was confined with, neither of whom was his mother. Sadly, this is the norm in captivity for male whales.”
Since SeaWorld announced in 2016 that they would end orca breeding, they have resisted moving the 23 orcas in their care to a sanctuary setting. Instead, these orcas are still sentenced to live day after day in a pool while forced to continue performing. This is the fate that Tilikum faced every day until the end of his life.
Captive orcas are susceptible to a range of ailments and issues that cause suffering and drastically shorten their lifespans. In the wild, the average lifespan is 30 years for males and 46 years for females, although they have been known to live over 90 years. In captivity, most die before they reach the age of 25 in tanks that are only 1/10,000th of one percent the size of their natural home ranges. Orcas placed together in captivity are often from different pods, do not speak the same language, and can become territorial and even violent. Mental anguish takes a severe toll, too, and orcas have been known to self-mutilate out of boredom and desperation.
Roberts continued, “We urge Seaworld to take Tilikum’s suffering, both before and after he became ill, as motivation to move the remaining orcas out of their tiny tanks. Five marine mammals have died at SeaWorld parks in the past year, which is five too many. Both the will of the public and the science on orca welfare is clear: it is time to end captivity for good.”