With the latest killer whale attack hitting the headlines last week, new concerns have been brought to the surface as to whether animals, particularly the predatory kind should really be held in captivity.
Long term animal trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, was dragged to her death last Wednesday when the 12,300 pound bull orca whale named Tilikum, suddenly turned on her, grabbing her around the waist, pulling her to the depths of the tank.
The experienced trainer was explaining the details of the show when she was suddenly attacked in front of horrified onlookers.
Emergency services came to the scene, but the trainer drowned before anyone could pull her free.
Brancheau had worked as an animal trainer for years and was said to have had a close bond with all the whales she worked with.
This appeared fruitless, however, when the whale, nicknamed ‘Tilly’ suddenly switched back to her natural instincts, killing the young woman within minutes.
This is the latest in a string of attacks from predatory animals held in captivity.
In December 2009, wildlife trainer Alexis Martinez Hernandez, was killed as he fell from a whale after it made a unusual movement during a series of stunts.
The trainer’s rib cage was crushed at the Loro Parque in Tenerife.
‘Tilly’ is said to have a history of violence, leading to allegations against the SeaWorld owners themselves for allowing the animal to participate in the shows.
The whale was blamed for drowning a trainer back in 1991 at a park in British Columbia, and then again in 1999 after drowning a homeless man who was believed to have jumped into the tank.
Yet can we really blame the whales when they are held in captivity and made to participate in stunt shows?
Officials at PETA spoke after the attack, stating that attacks like this are not surprising when these mammals, that belong in the ocean, are confined to areas that to them is like the size of a bath tub: ‘It’s not surprising when these huge, smart animals lash out.’
Tilikum had been captured from the wild in 1984 when she was two years old and has lived in captivity ever since.
Perhaps ‘Tilly’ was a ticking time bomb that park officials had chosen to ignore.
It is believed that the accidental touch of Brancheau’s ponytail against the whale’s nose seconds before the attack may have caused the mammal to react like this.
Whether it scared the whale into attacking, or was mistakenly taken for a command, it is not known.
The victim’s family do not wish the whale to destroyed, knowing Ms Brancheau’s love for it, but hope this latest attack will make SeaWorld officials and others rethink their work with Killer Whales.
Chuck Tompkins, curator of zoological operations at SeaWorld stated ‘We need to re-evaluate the training procedures and protocols and obviously we’re going to make any changes we need to make sure that this never happens again.’
Yet if a Killer whale can react so violently to just a swish of a ponytail what’s to really stop it happening again?
After all, they are Killer whales: it’s in the name.
Perhaps the only real guarantee of safety for both trainers and the whales themselves is for the animals to be returned to the wild, where after all, they rightfully belong.