During February, a seaworld trainer by the name of Dawn Brancheau was killed in a freak orca accident. During a routine trick, the seemingly playful whale suddenly dragged her into the pool and started thrashing her around, causing her death through drowning and trauma. We were left to mourn the hapless trainer whose unyielding devotion to these marine mammals makes it all the more heart-wrenching. Yet we also have questions. The orca in question, Tillicum, was already involved with two incidents prior to Dawn Brancheau’s. Orca’s are extremely powerful predators in the wild, with few natural predators of its own. As the largest Orca in captivity, it wouldn’t be too out of place to be more careful.
While the first impulse may be to euthanize the whale because it’s clearly a dangerous animal, I’ve thought about how not just orcas, but all marine mammals have been treated in the course of this kind of entertainment. They’re confined in chlorinated tanks with little current and little imitation of their natural habitat. While it has not been undoubtedly proven, a common symptom of captive orcas is the collapsed dorsal fin. If you may recall several years ago, the famous Orca Keiko was gradually conditioned until it was ready to be released back into the wild. While it was noble in intention, Keiko had been working with humans for years. To be released back into the wild at that age, after so it would be tough to seamlessly readapt.