Tilikum spent a lot of time in isolation pool SeaWorld Orlando. Photo via Colleen  Gorman.


January 7, 2017

The Editor, Times-Colonist: [not published]

Two articles in the January 7, 2016 Times Colonist  about the death in captivity of Tilikum, an Icelandic orca who was captive in Sea World Orlando and formerly captive in the now defunct SeaLand of the Pacific in Oak Bay, refer  to the incorrect “ponytail grab” version of events when Tilikum killed Orlando orca trainer Dawn Brancheau.  That was SeaWorld’s initial version of events, a version that blamed Dawn for carelessness, and which has been proven by video footage not to be what happened.

Tilikum took Dawn Brancheau by the arm. He wasn’t playing with her ponytail. Orca intelligence is undisputed. The “ponytail version” undermines Brancheau’s status, undermines Tilikum’s decision making and is an effort to ignore his rage.  Tilikum knew what he was doing. He savaged her body and left her whistle at the bottom of the pool – the whistle, the symbol of control. Video (“Slow Motion Footage of Dawn With Tilikum Seconds Before”) can be found on The Orca Project blog, April 20, 2011 post “SeaWorld Trainer Death Theory Debunked as a Ponytail Tale”.

As a related thought, I hope soon “anthropomorphism” will be universally seen for what it is – a human delusion that any individual of another species who demonstrates intelligence, thought, planning, decision making, will, and emotion is “aww, kind of  like us”.

Post- “Blackfish”, people will know that orcas and cetaceans are “the minds in the waters”, and that orca and cetacean captivity is an atrocity.

One of the  Southern Residents, Lolita Tokitae of L pod, taken from her family  in August 1970,  languishes  in the officially substandard Miami Seaquarium. Will she be next to die alone in a concrete box?

Tilikum: The Long Horror Is Over. RIP.


Tilikum, a life stolen. Photo by Colleen Gorman,  Tilikum’s angel on earth.


Page will be updated as news comes in.

Six SRKW deaths, young and old, in 2016.This fragile endangered population cannot withstand this kind of disaster. There are as of January 6, 2016  78 SRKWs left, from an historic possible high of 200 before Pacific Northwest wild captures decimated the family groups.

Just a few days ago, the announcement that Granny, Southern Resident matriarch, leader, historian, is presumed dead at about 104, not having been seen since October 2016. Now Tilikum, wild caught in Iceland, not a Southern Resident, but so well known all over the world as a result of activists’ work (eg Colleen Gorman of The Orca Project), and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s “Blackfish“.  


“When he was no more than a two-year-old baby, Tilikum was ripped from his ocean home off the coast of Iceland in November 1983. He would never see his family, feel the sea water on his skin or experience freedom again. Instead, he was sold to the highest bidder. “


“Isolated by himself in a tank smaller than the average backyard pool where he could barely move or turn, much less swim, Tilikum was used as an involuntary sperm donor in SeaWorld’s artificial-insemination breeding program, to make more little orcas to entertain tourists. I won’t even go into the degrading details of how that was carried out. To his captors he was a commodity, not a sentient being.”



Degrading details have been documented. Interspecies sexual abuse at SeaWorld.Orcas trained from adolescenceto accept hand jobs.


Howard Garrett of Whidbey Island-based Orca Network (Garrett appeared in Blackfish):“He led a terrible tragic life in that tiny little metal cage in Victoria … then at Sea World he was isolated and tormented by some of the dominant females the entire time he was in captivity,” he said. ” He was bored out of his gourd. I can’t believe he could live that way. There’s nothing around. It has concrete walls. It’s like living in a hall of mirrors with nothing to do but float listless. How bored could he have been? With a brain four times the size of ours that is constantly processing, but nothing to process. How did he even survive that long?” Garrett said that such conditions are conducive to creating psychosis in orcas. Especially since they are not evolved to be in such conditions.


Paul Spong, founder of the OrcaLab research station on northern Vancouver Island, followed Tilikum’s life: “In a way it comes as a relief. Tilikum has been in captivity for such a long time,” he said. “His life, I would characterize it as a total misery in many ways….He was kept right at the beginning in terrible circumstances in a tiny pool while his captors tried to sell him,” Spong said.


Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite on Friday mourned the loss of SeaWorld’s Tilikum, a killer whale who she said died a “martyr.”

<i>Blackfish</i> Director Calls SeaWorld’s Killer Whale Tilikum a ‘Martyr’

Sandra Pollard for World Cetacean Alliance:


#IAmTilikum #FinallyFree (video below made when Tilikum’s health started to fail)

Colleen Gorman and John Kielty’s The Orca Project (started it all):


The news, when it finally came, was not a surprise but it still stung. On January 6th, 2017, Sea World announced that Tilikum, the dark star of the 2013 ground-breaking documentary Blackfish, had died.


The “Blackfish” documentary argued that killer whales, when in captivity, become more aggressive toward humans and each other. After the documentary played at the Sundance Film Festival and aired on CNN, several entertainers pulled out of planned performances at SeaWorld parks and animal rights activists increased their demonstrations outside the parks.

SeaWorld: Tilikum, orca that killed trainer, has died

Candace Calloway Whiting: “His iconic life represented all that was wrong about keeping these majestic whales in tanks. Rest in peace, Tilikum.”


Tilikum was a wild-caught orca taken from his family in Icelandic waters when he was just two years old and he’s spent the last 34 years confined. Read about his tragic life in captivity.


Film-maker Gabriela Cowperthwaite then created a documentary about the treatment of orcas in captivity. The film, Blackfish, alleged attempted coverups of orca attacks on humans, which it said were caused by the conditions of captivity causing psychosis in the animals.


John Hargrove, former SeaWorld orca trainer (appears in Blackfish): “He lived a tortured existence in captivity. I think all the whales do, but if you had to pinpoint one of them, hands down I would say Tilikum.

“Tilikum’s life was so incredibly tragic. He lived a horrible life, he caused unspeakable pain, so at least his chapter is over,” Cowperthaite said.
“Tilikum lived longer than almost any other captive male orca has, but his life was one of deprivation and difficulty,” Animal Welfare Institute marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose said in a news release. “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.”
Tilikum’s death is significant — his life, even more so. Over the past three decades, Tilikum has grown to become arguably the most famous animal in the world. Torn from his mother’s side off the coast of Iceland in 1983, he came to symbolize everything that was wrong with captivity.
Cowperthwaite said she hopes Tilikum’s life and death will sway the marine park to finally release all of its animals into the wild or into coastal sanctuaries. “His purpose in some way was hopefully to turn his tragic life into a lesson,” she said. “He can truly be an ambassador for what’s wrong with having animals in captivity.”

Steve Huxter (former orca trainer at Sealand of the Pacific in Oak Bay, near Victoria BC, where Tilikum was transferred after capture in Icelandic waters, taken from his mother at two years of age)  remembers Tilikum as gentle and eager to interact:


SeaWorld has announced that Tilikum, a killer whale with a troubled local past, died Friday morning.


Steve Huxter, former orca trainer (includes video of orca aggression from various orcas in captivity) remembers Tilikum :



My students and I say goodbye to Tilikum, sold and moved at midnight 1992