Posted on February 25, 2010
I can say with 100% certainty that there is nothing at which I am an expert. There are, however, a few things of which I am incredibly passionate about. Orca whales are one of those things. While there are topics worth biting my tongue over, this is one passion I freely share my firm opinion on.
Photo: TylerIngram on Flickr
The story of the whale trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida that was killed by a captured orca whale – more commonly known as the “killer whale” – has reached all corners of the globe since Wednesday afternoon’s tragedy. An event such as this one naturally triggers a landslide of questions. Perhaps the most commonly asked question is simply: how could this happen?
Dawn Brancheau was an experienced trainer, having worked with these magnificent mammals for 16 years. The whale at the centre of this story is a 12,000 pound male named Tillicum, a creature that Dawn was incredibly familiar with and one whom she had created a working relationship with through training. So what provoked Tillicum to drag Dawn under the water and into an untimely and heart-rending death?
The question of how this could have happened seems, to me, to have a rather simple reasoning. Orca whales, like any animal on this planet, is at its core a wild animal. No amount of domestication can ensure a human’s ultimate safety around animals – whether we’re dealing with whales and dolphins or cats and dogs. As an expert in her field, I have no doubt that Dawn was fully aware of the daily risks she took in working with Tillicum. While what happened is wholly unfortunate, at the end of the day it can’t be unexpected either.
Photo: TylerIngram on Flickr
Many news reports that have come out in the wake of this event have suggested that it’s likely Tillicum simply thought of Dawn as a “toy” and was merely playing with her. Though defined as predatory, orca whales (which are actually a species of dolphin, not whale) aren’t generally thought to be a threat to humans and are, more often than not, peaceful creatures. That said, it can be contended that Tillicum was simply doing what comes naturally to him. If, on the other hand, what happened was rooted in aggression, we could consider his environment a chief contributing factor.
Oceanic mammals were created with the sea as their home and playground. To pluck them from the deep blue and confine them to the equivalent of a bathtub will surely have an effect. Imagine, if you will, being contained in a single room, left to circle endlessly while people peered in through windows on all four sides. It would be enough to drive you mad, wouldn’t it?
And so the great debate regarding whales in captivity has kicked up again and everyone is sure to have an opinion. Scientists claim that capturing whales is the best way by which to study them and learn of their nature and habits in order to assist in conservation programs. It would seem to me that the most effective environment to study whale behavior regarding conservation is in the wild. But then again, what do I know? I’m not an orca expert, just an orca lover.
Contribute your two cents: Do you think keeping whales in captivity is an acceptable practice? Should they be released into the wild?