Gender: Male Pod: N/A Place of Capture: Togi, Iceland Date of Capture: November 9, 1983 Age at Capture: Approx. 2 years Current Location: SeaWorld of Florida
On November 9, 1983, three young whales were captured off the coast of Iceland and immediately transferred to the Hafnarfjordur Aquarium. Here, they were trained and put up for sale.
The following year, a 3 year old male was purchased by Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, Canada. He was later known as Tilikum, a Chinook Jargon word meaning “friends, relations, tribe, nation, common people”.
When he arrived at Sealand, he met the resident females, Haida II and Nootka IV who were more dominant and displaced Tilikum on a regular basis.
In 1982, a year before Tilikum arrived, Sealand housed a rescued female named Miracle who drowned after the nets were cut and she became entangled in them. This resulted in Sealand beginning to store the whales at night in the “module” - a roughly 20 x 30ft. metal pool - to prevent anymore whales from becoming entangled in the nets. According to former staff who appeared in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, when they arrived in the mornings, Tilikum would often be covered in rakes from the other whales.
The whales performed together for about 8 years until one incident caused Sealand to close down permanently.
On February 20, 1991, part-time trainer Keltie Byrne was carrying a cooler along the side of the pool before accidentally falling into the water. She attempted to climb out of the pool, but all three whales quickly swam over and pulled her away from the edge before proceeding to submerge her repeatedly until she was unconscious. Other trainers tried to distract the whales as well as pull Keltie out of the water, but were unsuccessful. Ultimately, Keltie drowned and emergency respondents were unable to retrieve her body for at least 2 hours.
At the time of the incident, both Haida II and Nootka IV were pregnant by Tilikum, though Haida II’s calf was the only one to survive, and was later named Kyuquot.
In 1992, SeaWorld stepped in and bought all four whales. Tilikum and Nootka IV were sent to the Orlando park while Haida II and Kyuquot were sent to the San Antonio park. It didn’t take long before Tilikum proved himself to be SeaWorld’s most successful breeding male ever, having sired 21 calves to date, though only 11 are alive today.
On July 7, 1999, Tilikum was involved in yet another incident, though this was not with a trainer, but with a park guest.
Daniel P. Dukes had visited the park the previous day, but managed to hide in the park until after closing. He then proceeded to climb into Tilikum’s tank and was found the next morning naked, covered in bruises, bite marks, and abrasions, and draped over the whale’s back. The coroner’s report concluded that Dukes’ cause of death was drowning, but goes on to list various injuries including a number of contusions, abrasions, and wounds sustained whilst he was still alive as well as postmortem, a mild subarachnoid hemorrhage of the cerebellum, and avulsion (forcible separation or detachment) of his genitals. Toxicology reports confirmed that Dukes was not intoxicated at all at the time of his death, though there are claims that he had a history of mental illness.
Tilikum has also been known to lunge towards the control trainer when he gets frustrated. His profile also warned trainers of his previous incidents with Miss Byrne and Mr. Dukes. Despite trainers having to exercise caution around Tilikum, he was involved in yet another death in 2010.
On February 24, 2010, after an afternoon show resulted in several whales becoming aggressive with each other and one female sustaining an injury just above her eye near the end of the show, senior trainer Dawn Brancheau was set to perform a “Dine with Shamu” show with Tilikum.
After the show was over, Dawn continued over to a slide out area where she can be seen, in a video taken by a park guest, laying on her stomach for a ‘relationship session’ with the bull Orca. Almost immediately after lying down, Tilikum grabbed Dawn by her left arm, pulling her into the pool and beginning to violently thrash her body about in the water while at least a dozen park guests looked on in horror.
Other trainers attempted to distract Tilikum by throwing food at him and using nets but were unsuccessful. Eventually, they were able to direct him to the medical pool where he released Dawn’s body and was able to be calmed. SeaWorld went on to claim that Dawn was pulled in by her ponytail, and that Tilikum may have mistaken it for a toy or she may have touched her hair after handling fish, leaving the scent on her hair; though witnesses to Dawn’s death stated that Dawn was pulled in by her arm.
The autopsy report concluded that Dawn’s cause of death was due to drowning as well as traumatic injuries. Her injuries included complete avulsion of the scalp from the head as well as complete avulsion of her left arm. She suffered lacerations to her right ear, liver, and extremities, along with a fracture to the 7th cervical vertebra.
In Blackfish, former SeaWorld trainers noted that after Dawn had asked Tilikum for a ‘perimeter pec wave’, he did perform the behavior correctly, but missed the whistle bridge and Dawn responded with a 10 second neutral response and dismissed giving him a reward for his behavior before proceeding to ask him for a different behavior. They also noted that Tilikum could likely hear that Dawn was beginning to run out of fish, signaling that they were coming to the end of session, potentially causing him to be less focused or motivated near the end of the show.
On August 23, 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), fined SeaWorld $75,000 for three safety violations. Most notably, one violation classified as a “willful” violation for “exposing employees to struck-by and drowning hazards when interacting with killer whales.”
SeaWorld issued a statement claiming that OSHA’s findings were “unfounded” and announced plans to contest the citation. OSHA said that trainers should not be allowed to swim with the remaining whales unless they are protected by a physical barrier or “through the use of decking systems, oxygen supply systems or other engineering or administrative controls that provide the same or a greater level of protection for the trainer.”
While SeaWorld attempted to contest the ban of waterworks, Tilikum was isolated and was not allowed to perform in shows until March 2011, and often is only seen performing in splash sessions with his grandson Trua who was born in 2005 to the captive born female Takara. He was briefly removed from shows in December 2011 after becoming ill with Bronchitis, but recovered and resumed performances in the spring of 2012.
In April 2014, after a long court battle, a U.S. appeals court panel upheld the ruling by OSHA that SeaWorld violated its duties by exposing trainers to “recognized hazards” when working with the whales, and must limit whale-trainer contact during shows. This ban effectively removed trainers from the water and prohibits them from interacting with the whales without supervision and physical barriers in the form of removable metal bars. Though it sparked outrage among faithful SeaWorld supporters, so far, SeaWorld has chosen not to file an appeal with the United States Supreme Court.
Today, Tilikum remains at the Orlando park with just Trua for companionship. He is approximately 34 years old.
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Gender: Female Pod: N/A Place of Capture: Ingólfshöfði, Iceland Date of Capture: October 1979 Age at Capture: Approx. 3 years Current Location: Marineland Ontario, Canada
In October 1979, a group of 6 Orcas were captured in Iceland before being transferred to the Hafnarfjordur Aquarium. Here, they were trained, their health assessed, and then put up for sale.
A young female, later known as Kiska, was purchased by Marineland Ontario along with others. It is unclear exactly which whales she was transferred with, however, as the records from Icelandic captures were often non-existent or sources constantly conflict with one another. Though, there is photographic evidence of her at Marineland with a male named Keiko.
When Kiska arrived at the park, she met the resident whales Knootka and Kanduke; later on she met Nootka V and Kandu VII as well as a number of other whales throughout the years. Like the other Orcas, she performed in the King Waldorf Theatre for many years until the construction of Friendship Cove was finished in 1998, and she was moved there with the other adult whales.
While the whales in Friendship Cove were technically retired, they still participated in petting and splash sessions with the public, though Kiska no longer performs in these sessions.
In 1992, Kiska gave birth to her first calf, a small unnamed male. He died about 2 months later due to unknown causes, though it was rumored that Kiska drowned him due to him suffering respiratory problems.
Kiska gave birth to her second calf, another male known as Kanuck, in 1994. He appeared healthy and spent some time with his mother but was later moved to the “warehouse” - an indoor pool devoid of natural sunlight and fresh air. He was kept here for a time and reportedly died in 1998 due to traumatic shock.
In 1996, Kiska gave birth to her third calf, yet another male who was known as Nova. He was born in the King Waldorf Theatre but was soon moved, with other calves, to the warehouse due to overcrowding in the stadium. When Friendship cove was finished, he was moved there with a few others and was reunited with his family. However, Nova died in August 2001 due to Pneumonia and Starvation.
Hudson, Kiska’s fourth calf, was born in 1998 and was the first calf to be born in Friendship Cove. He made friends with his half-brother Algonquin and the two spent a lot of time together. However, when Algonquin died in 2002, Hudson became less active, and Nootka V, Algonquin’s mother, became usually aggressive towards him. Hudson died suddenly in 2004 due to Meningitis.
Finally, in 2004, Kiska gave birth to her fifth calf, her first daughter who was named Athena; all of Kiska’s calves were sired by the Icelandic male Kandu VII. Athena was close to Kiska and often copied her behaviors.
By 2006, Nootka V, Kiska, and Athena were the only Orcas at the park until SeaWorld sent one of their young whales, a male named Ikaika, to Marineland. Unfortunately, Nootka V died in 2008, followed by Athena in 2009, leaving Ikaika as Kiska’s only companion. The two were often separated, as Ikaika would harass Kiska; he was moved back to SeaWorld San Diego in 2011 after a lengthy custody battle between SeaWorld and Marineland.
While Marineland has long been criticized over the care of all of their animals, Kiska has been the main focus for many activists mainly due to her health and solitary state. In July 2014, a park guest photographed Kiska, showing her dorsal fin possibly deteriorating, as well as a large indentation directly behind her blowhole. Since 2013, there has also been ongoing concern after a video was recorded by another park guest, showing Kiska bleeding from her tail.
In January 2015, Ontario’s local government announced a proposed massive overhaul of conditions for captive marine mammals, including a ban on the acquisition and sale of Orcas. The proposed changes stem from a 125-page report from a team of scientists led by David Rosen, a marine mammal expert from the University of British Columbia. A technical advisory committee will draft new standards. If approved, these new standards could cause massive physical changes at Marineland.
Kiska, who is approximately 39 years old, has been dubbed as the “lonliest whale in the world”, as she currently lives at Marineland alone, with no other animals for companionship.