orlandosentinal - Before I say anything else, please understand that my heart goes out to SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, her family and all the people who loved and admired her. From all accounts, she had a beautiful soul.
And, yes, I know SeaWorld does a lot of good things for wildlife conservation. I also once saw the popular “Dine with Shamu” show there, and I agree it’s entertaining. But I wouldn’t go again.
I have to think that Brancheau’s death Wednesday at the popular marine park attraction is a tragic reminder of why creatures as big as Tilikum — the killer whale that apparently dragged her underwater and drowned her — simply should not be in captivity.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society are just two of the organizations that have campaigned against the practice. First, killer whales in captivity often get sick and live on average only into their 20s (though there are exceptions). In the wild, the females typically live into their 50s or beyond and the males at least into their 30s.
Advocates for the orca blame the stress of captivity — the lack of natural social groups, the tight confines, the chemically treated water. These are highly intelligent creatures with entrenched socialization habits and sophisticated communication skills. And you cannot ignore their most obvious feature: their size. Perhaps I’m being simplistic, but if you were 26 feet long and weighed more than six tons, where would you rather swim — in a tank or freely in an ocean?
I’ve been a fan of SeaWorld for years, and I will continue to be — at least for certain parts of it. I happen to love the “Pets Ahoy!” show the park started using shelter dogs and cats and other small animals, who probably live a pretty happy life at the park. But they are creatures domesticated over centuries.
Somewhere I think you have to draw the line. I’m not sure precisely where, but I think you can safely say that it’s well before you get to killer whales.
Killer Whales Don't Kill People in the Wild
By Jeanna Bryner - LiveScience - News of a trainer being killed by a killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando today doesn't change the fact that these giants, while deadly predators, do not kill humans at sea.
"They have never killed a human in the wild," said Nancy Black, a marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch. That's mostly because, unlike sharks, killer whales don't frequent near-shore areas where people swim. (Even shark attacks on humans are generally accidental, experts say, with sharks mistaking humans for seals or other typical food.)
Details of the event today were sketchy, and SeaWorld officials contacted by LiveScience said they could not comment on the incident yet. According to news reports, the orca drowned its female trainer as tourists watched in horror.
But this killer whale at SeaWorld probably didn't intentionally kill the trainer.
"I just think the killer whale may have wanted a social companion and just held her under too long," Black told LiveScience. "I would think the killer whale didn't do it intentionally but more as a play thing. They're so powerful." She added killer whales don't have to come up for air as often as a human might and could reasonably hold someone underwater for 15 to 20 minutes.
Possibly the killer whale just got bored, she said, since their lives in captivity are more confined than at sea where they spend time swimming hundreds of miles while hunting or playing.
"I've seen them toss seals 20 feet in the air with their flukes. They could mistake you for another mammal," Black said of the transients.
In general, killer whales, or Orcinus orca, are very intelligent and playful animals, amusing themselves anything from kelp to seals, Black said. But even though they are shown off at aquaria with fuzzy stuffed animals to boot, they are still wild animals.
And they are big, growing to 32 feet and weigh a whopping 18,000 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As apex predators, killer whales have few enemies, vulnerable only to large sharks.
Their fierce reputation comes from interactions with whales, not humans. In fact, sailors who witnessed killer whale attacks on larger cetaceans referred to the animals as "whale killers." That name changed to killer whales. The Spanish sometimes refer to the orca as Ballena asesina, meaning "assassin whale," according to the MarineBio Conservation Society.
Not all orcas dine on mammals. Those living in Norway prefer fish. But the so-called transients, which occur throughout the eastern North Pacific, eat other marine mammals, such as dolphins, sea lions and seals.