There is no record of an orca attacking a human in the wild. In 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a veteran trainer at SeaWorld, was killed by an orca during a show. The orca, Tilikum, had already been involved in two deaths. Now a controversial documentary on Tilikum and the death of Brancheau, “Blackfish,” is in theaters.
To fully understand Tilikum’s journey, we should start at the beginning. Each year, many orca follow Atlantic Herring to the rugged fjords of Iceland. It is here that Tilikum was netted and pulled alongside a boat with other members of his pod. The youngest and smallest orca were chosen to be taken into captivity. Tilikum was hauled onboard and stored for the duration of the journey in a “module,” a small, dark holding cell.
This brutal beginning, especially when added to all the ways orca are unfit for captivity, may explain the violence displayed by Tilikum. Orca in the wild travel hundreds of miles per day and are extremely gregarious. In captivity, the lack of room to roam and the absence of a pod cause significant stress. The sensory deprivation imposed on the orcas is enough to cause a human to become mentally disturbed.
Although SeaWorld has entertained and enthralled the public for nearly five decades, animal rights advocates hope “Blackfish” will help bring about a change that seems long overdue.