Tilikum, the orca who died at SeaWorld on Friday, was torn from his ocean home when he was only about 2 years old. Little could he know that he would never see his family again and would spend the next three decades in tiny tanks and enclosures. He found himself in a world in which he barely had room to move, much less dive deeply and swim at fast speeds for long distances, as he would have done in the ocean.
The stress of his deprivation drove him to kill three people. With no meaningful way to pass the interminable hours, Tilikum chewed on metal gates and the sides of his tank—nearly destroying most of his teeth. He often floated listlessly for hours at a time—an entirely atypical state for these naturally active animals. His dorsal fin was collapsed—a condition that’s infinitesimally rare in free-roaming orcas.
Yet SeaWorld, unmoved by his obvious anguish, continued to use him as a sperm bank to churn out more orcas, who will also spend every day of their lives in a swimming pool. Tilikum fathered 21 calves—11 of his calves died before he did.
With Tilikum’s passing, nearly 40 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch. He must be the last. SeaWorld needs to release the remaining orcas who are still languishing in its tanks to coastal sanctuaries where they can experience a semblance of the life that they’ve been denied.
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