SeaWorld Killer Whale to be Spared, But no ‘Free Willy’ Moment
February 26, 2010
(ChattahBox)—-SeaWorld’s 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum that pulled its trainer Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old veteran trainer, into the water and thrashed her to death, won’t be killed for his violent behavior, despite the fact that he has now killed three people. The killer orca’s sperm is apparently too valuable to the SeaWorld’s breeding program. SeaWorld officials also point out that Tilikum is a companion to the other whales at the park; not to mention his value as a performer. But there will be no magical “Free Willy” ending for Tilikum, because officials say he has been in captivity too long to survive in the wild.
Chuck Tompkins, chief of animal training at SeaWorld parks announced that changes will be implemented in how the trainers handle the whales. And a VIP program, which allowed visitors to pet the whales will now be eliminated. “We’re going to make any changes we have to to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Tompkins.
Additionally, all orca shows will be suspended at SeaWorld’s three parks, while a review is completed of the circumstances surrounding Brancheau’s death. Although Tilikum was said to be acting strangely in the hours leading up to his fatal attack, his behavior was dismissed. Presumably the issue of a whale’s behavior will be part of the review.
In response to questions about the whale’s previous history of killing, Tompkins claims that the park took precautions. “We didn’t ignore those incidents,” Tompkins said. “We work with him very, very carefully. We did not get in the water with this animal like we do with other killer whales because we recognized his potential.”
Dawn Brancheau’s sister, Diane Gross, supported the park’s decision to spare the life of Tilikum, noting that Brancheau loved the whales she worked with. “She loved the whales like her children. She loved all of them,” said Gross.
Photo Source: Julie Fletcher / AP