Why did SeaWorld killer whales die? Animal activists sue for release of necropsy reports

November 29, 2018

By: Lori Weisberg

Multiple animal rights advocates sued the federal government this week in a move to force the release of necropsy reports related to the deaths of three SeaWorld killer whales, including one from the San Diego marine park.

The lawsuit, which targets the National Marine Fisheries Service, is the culmination of a so far unsuccessful quest by marine mammal researchers and advocates to gain access to necropsies they say will help them and others understand how to better care for cetaceans both in captivity and the wild.

Animal welfare groups, including the Animal Welfare Institute, the Earth Island Institute and the PETA Foundation, have been trying since last year to persuade SeaWorld and the National Marine Fisheries Service to release necropsy reports on the 2017 deaths of three killer whales — Tilikum, the SeaWorld Orlando whale featured in the 2013 “Blackfish” documentary; Kasatka, regarded as SeaWorld San Diego’s orca matriarch; and Kyara, a 3-month-old killer whale born at SeaWorld San Antonio.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., argues that regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act require that SeaWorld turn over clinical history and necropsy reports to National Marine Fisheries when certain captive whales, porpoises or dolphins die . . . (to read the rest of the article visit the source)

Source: San Diego Tribune

Sideshow Theatre’s Tilikum: A Bleak Fantasy, Ripped From the Headlines

June 30, 2018

“Tilikum, the infamous SeaWorld killer whale, has died.” That was the headline in the Orlando Sentinel on January 6, 2017. Sideshow Theatre’s world premiere production of Tilikum takes the story of that sea creature and creates a poetic, percussive fantasy that demands that we pay attention to a range of social justice issues.

In her playbill note, playwright Kristiana Rae Colón references Ferguson, Missouri, and Black Lives Matter. She asks us to imagine a world without prisons or police. “Close your eyes. Imagine the sound of the ocean. Imagine a world without cages. Imagine a world without borders.”
On the surface, Tilikum is a documentary treatment of the life of an orca whale in captivity in a marine theme park. But it also enables Tilikum to tell his own story, starting with “When they snatched me.” He repeats that line again and again.

Tilikum is not subtle in its emphasis on its messages. But the staging by director Lili-Anne Brown is creative and memorable. Tilikum is staged in the pool of a marine theme park, where Tilikum (Gregory Geffrard) is dumped from his net by the Owner (Matt Fletcher) who has bought the six-ton whale, expecting his investment to be enhanced when Tilikum mates with the female whales.

The rear of the stage is the glass of the observation pool, where the shadows of female whales and calves swim. (Paul Deziel’s projection designs are quite remarkable and beautiful.) Behind the pool, three musicians perform the percussive music that forms the soundscape for the play as well as the language with which the females communicate with Tilikum.

The Owner hires Dawn (Sigrid Sutter) as the park’s new orca trainer. She bonds with Tilikum and the two perform a sensual dance in Tilikum’s pool. Tillkum, lonely and depressed in captivity, longs for his pod, remembers his mother, and misses “strumming love songs for Koosa Labal… Never a fish so fine as Koosa Labal, and when I was king enough to court her she’da been mine.” Playwright Colón makes us see the pain of captivity (slavery, imprisonment). “How long I’m in for?” Tilikum asks repeatedly, objecting to the tiny module he lives in.

Dawn hosts the orca show for the audiences that flock to see the huge creature perform. Later the Owner, from his control booth next to the pool, is concerned when Dawn bonds too closely with the animals and demands that she stop swimming the whales on her own. But Dawn has other ideas, including a new “late night” act with Tilikum.

Geffrard, a versatile actor, gives a powerful performance as Tilikum. The three musicians add texture and drama as well as the whalesong sound. Coco Elysses is composer and music director. The other two musicians are Melissa F. DuPrey and Joyce Liza Rada Lindsey. Wearing mask-like face paint, they represent the whale god Thixo; the whale goddess of violent death, Lambo; and the whale goddess of peaceful death, Waresa. Throughout the production, they drum Tilikum’s praises and communicate with him in his prison, as he tries to learn their tongue.

Tilikum follows the details described in the news story about Tilikum’s death. His story is also told in a 2013 documentary, Blackfish, which Colón mentions as one of her inspirations for the play.
Before Tilikum begins, the obligatory turn-off-your-devices message includes a reminder. At the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue, we are on land stolen from indigenous peoples: the Miami, Illinois, and later the Sauk, Shawnee, Winnebago, Kickapoo and Pottawatomie tribes.
Tilikum by Sideshow Theatre Company runs 90 minutes with no intermission. See it at Victory Gardens’ Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave, through July 29. Tickets are $20-30 for performances Thursday-Sunday.

Source: Third Coast Review.com

SeaWorld Just Revealed What Killed Tilikum — Sort Of

February 7, 2017

SeaWorld’s most famous whale, who passed away last month, died due to bacterial pneumonia, the park announced on Friday.

“The necropsy performed following Tilikum’s death confirmed his cause of death as bacterial pneumonia, consistent with his diagnosis and treatment,” SeaWorld said in a statement. “Bacterial pneumonia is commonly found in whales and dolphins in the wild as well as zoos.”

Tilikum’s story – that of an intelligent animal stolen from his wild mother’s side as a baby, then forced to spend decades in tiny marine park tanks – became a rallying point for a public increasingly concerned about captivity.

While SeaWorld’s announcement seems intended to bring closure, not everyone is buying it. Naomi Rose, a marine biologist and orca expert with the Animal Welfare Institute, told The Dodo that pneumonia is a very common cause of death among captive marine mammals.

But in nearly every case, she explained, pneumonia is simply a secondary sign of something else that’s wrong with the animal – in other words, most animals who die of it have primary health problems that allow pneumonia to develop.

“Why did Tilikum develop pneumonia? What was wrong with him that allowed pneumonia to get a foothold?” Rose said. “Without the necropsy report or all his medical history … telling us that he died of pneumonia is pretty meaningless.”But at present, SeaWorld and other marine parks are only required to submit a one-word reason for marine mammals’ deaths to officials – no matter how empty that word might be.

Marine parks used to have to release full necropsy reports for deceased mammals. But in 1994, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums – a cohort of marine parks cofounded by SeaWorld – campaigned to change the law so they could keep that information private.

“It’s because the information that’s in necropsy reports, they don’t want that to become public,” Rose said. “They wanted that to be proprietary.”

That could be, Rose said, because orcas and other cetaceans die young because of factors related to captivity – and the necropsies could prove it.”All [captive] orcas are, in my opinion, under constant low levels of stress,” she said. “That’s why they don’t live very long.”

That stress can make animals more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia; Unna, Tilikum’s daughter, passed away a year ago at just 19 years old after a months-long battle with a fungus infection.

“Given SeaWorld’s own argument that they don’t have pollution or boat strikes to worry about, that they have three square meals a day … they argued that their tanks are these really safe, clean, healthy environments, all of their orcas should be living to ripe old ages,” Rose said.

“[But] a bunch of whales have died in their twenties, teens or even their teens. They haven’t even made it to 10,” she added. “By SeaWorld’s own argument, their tanks are so much safer than in the wild. So why are they dying young?”

Tilikum, of course, lived to be 36, slightly above the average life expectancy of a wild male orca. But statistically, he’s “a gross outlier,” Rose explained. In SeaWorld’s roughly 50-year history, only two male orcas – Tilikum and Ulisses, who’s currently in his mid-to-late 30s – made it past 30.”[SeaWorld’s] been around for many, many years and only two males have made it … they’re all dead by 30,” Rose explained. “After 50 years, Tilikum and Ulysses were it.”

But that longevity means that Tilikum’s death could serve a greater purpose: Researchers rarely have access to deceased orcas, and Tilikum’s health could provide insights about both captive cetaceans and orcas in general.

Though SeaWorld said in its statement that samples had been shared with a dozen studies, it’s unclear whether those studies are being conducted by independent researchers or are affiliated with SeaWorld.

In Rose’s case, she is still hoping that SeaWorld will publicize its findings – both to aid researchers, and as “a gesture of goodwill” toward a public that still wants complete answers.

“Given how important Tilikum was to a large section of the public, I think they should release the necropsy report,” she said. “If they won’t, that says something.”

Source: The Dodo.com

Tilikum, whale who killed SeaWorld trainer, died from bacterial pneumonia

February 4, 2017

Tilikum, whale who killed SeaWorld trainer, died from bacterial pneumonia 

Tilikum, the notorious Orca who dragged and killed an Orlando SeaWorld trainer underwater in 2010, reportedly died from bacterial pneumonia.

SeaWorld spokeswoman Aimée Jeansonne Becka sent the results of the necropsy to the Associated Press in an email Friday.

The whale — which was featured in the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” — was being treated for a chronic bacterial infection in his lungs since March. The whale died in January.

“While we are still saddened by the loss, the post-mortem information is consistent with the diagnosis and treatment we were providing,” Vice President of Animal Health for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Hendrik Nollens said in a statement.

The documentary was about the 2010 incident, and was designed as a way to help sway popular public opinion against killer whales in captivity.

The film was wildly popular with viewers and received 98% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.

The 37-year-old marine mammal resided in the SeaWorld park for nearly 25 years, and impacted the lives of millions of visitors.

“Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired,” President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby said.

“My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”

Source: New York Daily New.com

Killer whale at center of ‘Blackfish’ dies

January 6, 2017

Tilikum, the killer whale involved in the deaths of three people, including SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, has died, SeaWorld reported Friday.Tilikum was at the center of the 2013 CNN documentary “Blackfish.””Tilikum passed away early this morning, January 6, surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care,” SeaWorld said on its website.SeaWorld reported in March that the orca — estimated then to be 35 — may be dying. It also announced then that it would no longer house the whales at its water parks.”Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired,” SeaWorld president and CEO Joel Manby in a statement. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”The company has come under fire for its treatment of killer whales since the 2013 CNN documentary.

A post on the Blackfish Twitter account said, “Heartbreaking news. SeaWorld has announced the passing of Tilikum #RIPTilikum #Blackfish”The film gave a disturbing portrayal of the captivity of the killer whales in SeaWorld. The Orlando-based water park operator responded to the film by calling it false, misleading and “emotionally manipulative” propaganda.In a Twitter post on Friday, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shared a photo of the whale with the message: “R.I.P. Tilikum Dead after three decades of misery.”

In March, when SeaWorld announced that the killer whales currently in its care will be the last generation of the mammals enclosed at the water parks, the company said, “Why the big news? SeaWorld has been listening and we’re changing. Society is changing and we’re changing with it.”Other whales remain at the water park.”The orcas will continue to live at SeaWorld for many years to come, inspiring guests in new and natural ways,” the company said on its website at the time “They will continue to receive the highest-quality care based on the latest advances in marine veterinary medicine, science and zoological best practices.”PETA said SeaWorld had not gone far enough.

Tilikum became a part of SeaWorld 25 years ago, according to the company. The whale was near the high end of the average life expectancy for male killer whales according to an independent scientific review.

“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,” SeaWorld said Friday.”The suspected bacteria is part of a group of bacteria that is found in water and soil both in wild habitats and zoological settings.”Treatment included “combinations of anti-inflammatories, anti-bacterials, anti-nausea medications, hydration therapy and aerosolized antimicrobial therapy,” according to SeaWorld.”Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau,” the SeaWorld statement added.Brancheau, 40, died in 2010 from “multiple traumatic injuries and drowning” after the 12,000-pound killer whale grabbed her ponytail and pulled her underwater in front of shocked onlookers at Shamu Stadium, the Orange County Sheriff’s office reported then.Rescuers were not immediately able to reach Brancheau because of the “whale’s aggressive nature,” the sheriff’s office said at the time.She was recovered by SeaWorld staff members after Tilikum was coaxed into a smaller pool and lifted out of the water by a large platform on the bottom of the smaller tank, authorities said.Tilikum had been linked to two other deaths. He and two other whales were involved in the drowning of a trainer at a Victoria, British Columbia, marine park in 1991. The trainer fell into the whale tank at the Sea Land Marine Park Victoria and was dragged underwater as park visitors watched.In 1999, Tilikum was also blamed for the death of a 27-year-old man whose body was found floating in a tank at SeaWorld, the apparent victim of a whale’s “horseplay,” authorities said then. The sheriff’s office said the man apparently hid in the park until after it closed, then climbed into the tank.Tilikum was captured off the coast of Iceland and sired 21 calves in captivity. SeaWorld now has 22 orcas at its three facilities in Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California.Many people expressed sadness over the whale’s passing on social media Friday, while others labeled Tilikum “a murderer.”

Source: CNN.com

What’s Killing the Orcas at SeaWorld?

Nyar, a killer whale born in 1993 at SeaWorld Orlando, was rejected and bullied so badly by her mother that she had to be separated in her own pool — and her condition went downhill from there.

The “super-friendly” young orca became weaker while taking medication several times a day for a fungal infection, said John Jett, who worked with her while he was a trainer at the park. She eventually had to be force-fed with a bottle and a stomach tube when she became too feeble to lift her head on the side of the tank for meals, he said. Finally, Nyar died at age two from the infection in her brain.

“It was a really pitiful case,” said Jett, who left his job as a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando shortly after Nyar died in April 1996. “When she died, I had had enough.”

Nyar’s illness is common at SeaWorld’s parks in San Antonio, Orlando and San Diego, where almost 150 sea lions, beluga whales, orcas and other dolphins have died from infections since 1986, out of a total of 816 listed under the parks’ care, according to information reported by SeaWorld to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and analyzed by the San Antonio Express-News.

In San Antonio, five dolphins, whales and sea lions have died from infections since May 2014 and another three from inflammatory diseases, including Stella the beluga whale before Thanksgiving from inflammation of the brain and Unna the killer whale around Christmas from a bacterial infection. Dart, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, died in February from a fungal infection in her brain.

“Infectious disease is the number one cause of death in animals both in the wild as well as animals that live in managed care,” said Chris Dold, SeaWorld’s vice president of veterinary services. “The number of animals that come in and die of infectious disease in our rescue and rehabilitation programs greatly outnumbers the number of animals that die within our parks.”

Infections have caused more than 35 percent of marine mammal deaths at the parks, while another 11 percent were due to disorders often caused by infections, such as inflammation of the brain and intestines, records show.

They have been especially deadly for orcas and other dolphins, contributing to 60 percent of the deaths of orcas at the three parks and 55 percent for bottlenose and Pacific white-sided dolphins, according to the data, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The rates are lower for harbor seals, with 37 percent; beluga whales, with 30 percent; and California sea lions, with 25 percent, the data show.

The full article can be found at Expressnews.atavist.com

Tilikum – Improving but not out of the woods

May 21, 2016

A lot of fans have been asking for another Tilikum update, so we’re back with the latest from Director of Animal Training Kelly Flaherty-Clark. While our teams continue to treat him with care and medication for what we believe is a bacterial infection in his lungs, we are encouraged by some improvement in his lab tests.

As we’ve noted from the onset, Tilikum is an older whale, and has some good days and some not so good days, but will continue to receive the world-class care that SeaWorld is known for. Keep checking back here for the latest updates, and be sure to check out more about Tilikum, as well as the rest of SeaWorld’s orcas, on our Orca Profile Pages.

Source: SeaWorldCares.com/blog


Tilikum Update 5.15.16

Sunday, May 15, 2016


It has been a couple months since we have been able to check on Tilikum, but he continues to fight the good fight.

 Today he was observed swimming in “E” pool, next to the medical pool.  The fact that he was moving was a welcome relief.  Even when he is not sick, he doesn’t always swim. Instead he spends lots of time logging at the surface.

There were times, particularly at the beginning of each show, when he would look through the gate.  It’s as if he is watching a TV show of his life.  Like Dory I cannot speak whale, but this makes me think that he wants to join in the action.  He has not done the splash segment of the show or been on public display in months.

I asked the infamous trainer Holly how he was doing, and she said he was having a good day today. She said he is not out of the woods yet, but he continues to have good days and bad days.

We will continue to monitor his progress.

Source: OceanAdvocateNews.com

A Guy Just Offered SeaWorld $1,000,000 to Release Tilikum the Orca into a Sanctuary

SUNDAY MAY 8, 2016

SeaWorld has spend the last few years get absolutely slammed for their treatment of animals.They started off with good intentions… take in whales, dolphins, and any other sea creature that wasn’t able to survive in the wild, rehabilitate it, and let people ogle it for educational purposes. It was nice.

People opened their wallets, SeaWorld got rich, animals that would’ve otherwise died got a half-assed second chance at a not-so-great life. Better than the alternative, I suppose. Then it turned into a business, and shit hit the fan. Breeding programs, taking babies from their mothers, etc. It was all gravy, basically, until the film Blackfish came out, and a whole bunch of people realized at once that SeaWorld was basically Guantanamo Bay with clown makeup on. Maybe less waterboarding, but not a great place for an animal to live. After a few years of backlash, including a very public battle with the California Coastal Commission involving an attempt at a super shady deal to increase orca tank sizes if they were allowed to keep breeding whales, SeaWorld finally caved to public pressure and stopped bringing baby whales into a life in a pool. Long story short, the public won. But that still leaves the question of the orcas currently still in captivity–no one wants to see them there, but the fact remains that it’s very likely they’d die in the wild. So what to do? Well, a team of scientists has an answer… although SeaWorld isn’t really ok with it.

The team, including orca expert Naomi Rose, a couple of ex-SeaWorld trainers, and Lori Marino, the executive director of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, is planning on building the very first permanent sanctuary for whales and dolphins that aren’t able to survive in the wild, but shouldn’t be stuck in a tiny pool jumping through hoops for “educational” purposes.

The whole thing came about back in March, after SeaWorld made the announcement that they’d end their captive breeding program. Activists (and people in general) celebrated. But then came the question of what to do with the old whales–the ones that had spent years in crowded, tiny tanks, and still had years left. SeaWorld said that the whales were too weak from captivity to be released into the wild, a sentiment that Naomi Rose disagreed with.

A few days ago, the team made the announcement that they’d fired up plans for something called The Whale Sanctuary Project. As the name implies, they’re hoping to find a place where not only captive whales, but all cetaceans, can live out the rest of their days in relative normalcy. Right now, they’re looking for a suitable location. It will be in North America somewhere.

“There are sanctuaries for other large, highly social, and wide-ranging mammals, including elephants and great apes, but there are none anywhere in the world yet for dolphins and whales,” said Marino. ”Cetacean sanctuary initiatives are long overdue, and we now have the best possible team of experts to ensure an optimal quality of life and care for individual cetaceans.”

The CEO of a company called Munchkin, Inc, is on board with the idea. So on board, in fact, that Steve Dunn offered SeaWorld a million dollars to retire Tilikum to a sanctuary. No word yet on SeaWorld’s reaction, and they’ve been notoriously tight with their whales. It seems, though, that the public no longer wants to pay to watch intelligent creatures penned up for our enjoyment, and that’s a good thing. Maybe if they can get a massive payday out of the deal, it’ll work.

Source: www.TheInertia.com