Mar 9, 2010

When good whales go bad

by Jenna Shoffner

No, I am not working undercover for PETA, nor am I a hippie. But I do believe in freeing the whales. Not, in this case, as an animal rights statement, but more as a salute to common sense.

On Wed., Feb. 24, whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca whale during SeaWorld’s daily “Dining with Shamu” show, according to various news reports.

Brancheau was one of the park’s most experienced trainers, according to CBS news.

The whale responsible for Brancheau’s death, Tilikum, has been connected with two previous deaths as well, according to CNN.

In 1991, Tilikum killed a trainer who fell into his tank at SeaLand of the Pacific in British Columbia. In 1999, a man’s body was found in Tilikum’s tank, also according to CNN.

“All of our standard operating procedures will be under review,” said SeaWorld park President Dan Brown, according to NY Daily News.

Maybe in reviewing operating procedures, SeaWorld should take into account that they are dealing with wild animals made for the ocean, not contained tanks. While killer whales do not normally attack humans, they weigh tens of thousands of pounds and are hunters by nature, according to the Washington Post.

It was an absurd idea for SeaWorld to use a whale with a track record of deaths in a show for the park. It seems unfathomable that SeaWorld should be surprised that a “killer” whale, especially one that has already caused multiple deaths, would kill again.

Apparently, SeaWorld has not learned its lesson, even after the unfortunate death of another employee.

President of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Jim Atchison said that Tilikum “is a wonderful animal” and “will remain an active and contributing member of the team despite what happened,” according to CNN.

Tilikum may very well be a magnificent whale. But the fact is that he is the direct cause of the deaths of three people. If SeaWorld’s administration had common sense and the best interest of their trainers in mind, they would remove Tilikum from the park and place him back in the wild where he belongs.

Arguments have already been made that the trainer was responsible for her own death by not properly handling the whale, according to CNN.

However, if dealing with the animals is dangerous to the point that one false move could cost a life, the risk is not worth the entertainment that SeaWorld offers. Such risks are sometimes a necessity in situations of greater significance, but “Dining with Shamu” does not qualify for that category.

It was not a smart idea to place Tilikum in close contact with a trainer in the first place. The aim to keep Tilikum at SeaWorld after his third involvement in a human’s death show a lack of good judgment.

Therefore, SeaWorld would do well to take up the adage of “free the whales” and possibly save human life in doing so.

Contact Jenna Shoffner at

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