The Art of Testing

Tillikum and the Naivety of the Public Regarding Predatory Animals

On Wednesday February 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a whale trainer, was killed after an Orca whale, named Tillikum, grabbed her and pulled her into the water during a performance at Sea World Orlando.

Whether Brancheau made an error or whether SeaWorld permitted an unsafe environment is not something I, who was not there nor understand the details, can comment on. But what is telling about this story is the number of people who are writing off the killer whale’s behavior as not one of aggression but of “playing,” as if he saw the trainer as a mere toy. This whale took the trainer into its mouth and submersed her in the water, drowning her. She had multiple injuries, suggesting the whale either tossed her, rammed her into a wall of the pool or hit her. I’ve watched the nature shows featuring killer whales—they toss, hit and submerge their prey with one intent: to kill them.

This is the third time Tillikum has been involved in the death of a human.This web article describes the first death Tillikum was involved in:

In 1991, when Tillikum was at Oak Bay's Sealand of the Pacific, he was among three whales who killed 20-year-old trainer and marine biology student Keltie Byrne after she slipped into the pool. The whales, Tillikum and females Nootka and Haida, would not allow her out of the pool and she drowned.

How naïve can the public be to ascribe to this otherwise-wild, predatory animal the distinctly human attribute of playfulness? But many in the public grew up as children visiting Sea World, which features killer whales as adorable, friendly near-pets who do tricks. In a way, it is indoctrination. I use the term “indoctrination” loosely—obviously Sea World does not present their killer whale shows to indoctrinate the public. But in that they present false information—that a killer whale is otherwise friendly—it is indoctrination. And that grown adults can still see the killer whale as friendly “Shamu,” as opposed to a potentially violent animal, is very telling.

This is the same type of thinking that allows some vegetarians to believe that they should not eat meat for it is cruel to kill animals—in complete naivety to what those animals would do to them if they were hungry.

What implications does this have in regards to the current enemy we face today: Islamic terrorists? After 9-11, how many people were assuring us that Islam is a peaceful religion? How many are certain that if we could only reach out to the Islamic terrorists, surely they are otherwise friendly, loveable people who would convert? I am not speaking loosely when I say schools indoctrinate students about the true nature of Islam. In schools, the bloody history of Islam is whitewashed and Islam is presented as just another religion, filled with nothing but otherwise friendly people. The reality is that Islamic terrorists, like the killer whale, are violent animals.

Soon, a movie is going to come out called, How to Train your Dragon. From previews, the premise is that a young boy, who normally slays dragons, is now going to befriend the misunderstood beast—deep down, he is actually loveable! So the cycle will continue . . . .

I don’t think that Seaworld does anything wrong by capturing killer whales and using them to put on shows. I think it should be a source of pride for humans: that we can take one of the most predatory animals of the sea and have it do tricks for us at SeaWorld. And it is more than true that Brancheau, like Steve Irwin, takes a risk by choosing a profession interacting with predatory animals. However, if a dog kills someone, sometimes if they just bite someone, they are put down. If an alligator or shark kills someone, people go out of their way to find the animal and kill it. Dawn Brancheau deserves the same. Out of respect for the human life that was lost and because Tillikum has been described as a particularly dangerous whale, Tillikum should be euthanized.

Amber Pawlik