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The death of 36-year-old orca Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando has reignited the ongoing argument that orcas should not be kept in captivity.
Tilikum was well known from the popular documentary Blackfish (2013), which argued that keeping orcas in captivity has many negative and harmful effects on the animal.
After news broke of Tilikum’s death, SeaWorld released the following statement:
“Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues. While the official cause of death will not be determined until the necropsy is completed, the SeaWorld veterinarians were treating a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection.”
In this statement, SeaWorld refer to Tilikum as an “older animal”, yet he was only 36. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), male orcas can live to be 70 years old in the wild, and females have been known to live more than 100 years.
However, 36 years may be considered a long life by SeaWorld standards, with the life expectancy of orcas being kept in captivity at SeaWorld averaging only 13 years.
In 2011, ex-SeaWorld Workers Jeff Ventre and John Jett published a report detailing the torture and stress that is endured by orca’s being kept in captivity at SeaWorld.
The report states this stress is caused by a number of factors such as; confinement to tiny pools, lack of social interaction, lack of medical care, as well as aggression between whales.
Ventre and Jett claim that these factors not only lead to the death of orcas at SeaWorld, but can also be blamed for their aggression towards humans.
During his time in captivity, Tilikum was involved in the deaths of 3 people. The most recent incident resulted in the drowning of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau after Tilikum pulled her underwater by her hair during a live show. Yet, he was made to continue performing for the ‘entertainment of others’.
Former SeaWorld orca trainer John Hargrove believes that out of all the orcas at SeaWorld, Tilikum lived the most tortured life.
Tilikum was captured in Iceland and torn away from his family around the age of two. He was then later transferred to SeaWorld where he remained for the next 25 years until his death.
In the aftermath of Tilikum’s death, animal rights groups are protesting to have all remaining orcas released into better-quality habitats.
PETA urges SeaWorld to free all their remaining orcas. Releasing them into coastal sanctuaries would allow them to “enjoy a more natural life”.
They have also called for members of the public who are concerned about the enslavement of these animals to shun the facilities that keep and use them as ‘entertainment’.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) confirms there are currently a total of 55 orcas being held in captivity in 8 different countries around the world.
Whilst Australia is not home to any captive orcas, Animals Australia emphasizes that a glass tank is not a natural environment for any sea animal. This includes the hundreds of dolphins, seals, sharks and penguins that Australia does hold captive.