SeaWorld's Tilikum Performing Again, Said Killer Whale's 'Choice'

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SeaWorld San Diego (Credit: Wikipedia, Antoine Taveneaux)

Tilikum, the killer whale responsible for trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death in February 2010, returned to performing at SeaWorld last week, New York Daily News reported. His first performance was for a group of about 5,000 people.  It was his first since Brancheau’s death.

Brancheau was killed Feb. 24, 2010, after Tilikum, who has been linked with two other human deaths, pulled her underwater by her ponytail and drowned her.  Two SeaWorld cameras caught video of her death.

iMediaEthics first started following the stories on SeaWorld and Tilikum in March 2010, after SeaWorld joined with Brancheau’s family in the fight to keep footage of Brancheau’s death from the media. The media wanted the video to have experts make an independent assessment. Now the show is back on, with what appears to be, a silly explanation and no real public transparency about the fatal attack.

According to ABC News,

“SeaWorld officials said that it was the 12,000-pound whale’s “choice” to perform in the ‘Believe’ show this morning and that none of the park’s whales are coerced to participate.”

However, StinkyJournalism wonders what exactly that means? How can whales give consent?  StinkyJournalism is writing to SeaWorld’s Fred Jacobs to ask and will update with any response.

According to ABC News, SeaWorld has made some changes to its procedures following Brancheau’s death.  However,”SeaWorld officials would not specify what safety precautions were instituted, but some appeared to be obvious.” For example, trainers have new ways of working with Tilikum like “working with him from a distance” and massaging him with water hoses (trainers used to use their hands).

SeaWorld reportedly has also added guard rails and emergency safety nets in efforts to “protect its trainers,” New York Daily News reported.  ABCNews added that SeaWorld female trainers had their hair tied back “in high buns” and whales weren’t on the main stage and trainers weren’t on stages when Tilikum was.

PETA still calls for Tilikum to be “retired to a sanctuary” following Brancheau’s death, New York Daily News reported.

“SeaWorld’s decision is irresponsible and dangerous both for [Tilikum] and their employees,” PETA senior campaign manager Ashley Byrne is quoted as saying.

“The untimely and avoidable death of the trainer just last year showed us that contact with these massive, powerful animals can turn disastrous in an instant. The fact remains that it’s simply dangerous for their employees to be in contact with these animals.”

And, the U.S. Humane Society’s Naomi Rose also commented critically about Tilikum’s involvement in SeaWorld shows.  Rose stated:  “He’s the big finish and it worries me that the show is more important than his well being or trainer safety.”

PETA called for manslaughter charges against SeaWorld and its top executives for Dawn Brancheau’s death.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined SeaWorld $75,000 for three safety violations last year as a result of an investigation triggered by Brancheau’s death. SeaWorld is currently “fighting” OSHA’s fine for “willfully endangering the lives of its killer whale trainers.”

One of the citations was a willful disregard in “exposing” SeaWorld staff to the dangers of working with killer whales.  SeaWorld communications vice president Fred Jacobs told StinkyJournalism in August via e-mail that they were “contesting the citations.”

CBS News reported that former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg, who worked at SeaWorld when Tilikum was brought to SeaWorld, disputed at least one of the charges against the killer whale.

Berg said that her “understanding” about the death of Keltie Byrne, the first person reportedly killed by Tilikum, was that Byrne “slipped and fell in the pool, and then the other whales actually were involved in her death, and all Tilikum did was carry Keltie’s dead body around on his back and it took two hours to retrieve Keltie.”

Until the tapes are revealed–or yet another incident takes place–the public will remain in the dark about the public and work safety risks involved in reopening the popular tourist attraction.

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SeaWorld’s Tilikum Performing Again, Said Killer Whale’s ‘Choice’

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