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Killer Whales: Tanks and Tensions

Outside magazine has gone deep on the story of the killer whale that killed at SeaWorld. We get the whole story of whales and captivity.

UPDATE, Aug. 23, 2010: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined SeaWorld of Florida $75,000 for the deadly incident this year.

SeaWorld (AP)

In February, at SeaWorld in Orlando, a 12,000-pound bull killer whale named “Tilikum” grabbed trainer Dawn Brancheau by the pony tail, pulled her into the tank, and killed her.

The country was shocked. Maybe we shouldn’t have been.

Now, reporter Tim Zimmerman with Outside magazine has gone deep on the story of how killer whales are captured and kept — how these magnificent animals suffer for our delight.

And he tells the story of Tilikum in particular, who had been there for death twice before.

This Hour, On Point: the whole story of the killer whale and the dead trainer.


Tim Zimmerman, correspondent for Outside magazine. His article in the July issue is “The Killer in the Pool.”

Thad Lacinak spent 35 years at Busch Entertainment Corporation. He left there as vice president and corporate curator of animal training, where he directed animal training at all U.S. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Theme Parks. He is founder of  Precision Behavior, which offers professional education programs for domestic and wild animals.

Ken Balcomb, founder and senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research, which for more than three decades has been conducting a census of the killer whale population in the inland waters of Washington State and lower British Columbia.


Hear more sound of killer whales under water, courtesy of the Orca Network:



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  • justanother

    Human kill or capture those magnificent creatures because of their beauty, personality and appeal. Ironically, we save them for those same reasons. Those ugly ones no one cares to keep them captive, therefore they don’t ever have to worry about being rehabilitated back in the wild. But we need to look at all of them in a fair way, keep them all in the wild, and leave them alone.

    Often times you hear zoos or entertainment industry giving the benefit of keeping those wild animals captive, like conducting research, getting to know more about those animals….etc. For what? For our own good or for their good? How convenient are those excuses made up! if we buy into those excuses and support the zoos and theme parks, it’s no difference from supporting animal tested products.

    Whenever there’s a case of uncertain reason, those animals broke off cages and ran out, what do we do? Shot or killed them, next thing we hear from our local or national news is how “the human victims” suffer! Making those captive victims look like evil doers, is there any justice? Are human really that intelligent, enough to understand “justice”?

    Human don’t need to keep wild animals in captivity to learn about them, we can learn a lot about them by watching and observing them, and still remain respect for what they do and what they are born to be!

    It’s time to fund those programs to reintroduce future generations of those captive wild animals, it can be done.

    My love to all life on earth!

  • Barbara

    I agree entirely with justanother. How would we members of the human species like to be deprived of our habitat, companions and freedon, caged or otherwise confined and “trained” to do tricks? Wise for us to remember that we are only one of many species on this planet – and it seems likely that we will not be the last one left standing.

  • justanother


    It’s time to fund those programs to reintroduce future generations of those captive wild animals “into the wild”, it can be done.

    Thank you.

  • Margo

    What I want to know, after hearing all of the animal rights activists complaints, is simple. What scientific evidence is there, that these animals are suffering in captivity? Not assumptions, because of their intelligence, size and social habits, but actual scientific data. How does a wild Orca show they are stressed? Are their signs to look for? What does science say are the signs and symptoms of stress in these captive animals? For example, some are saying that Tilikum’s “attack” on Dawn was caused by his stress and rage over being held captive. Where is the evidence of this? Having seen video of stranded Orca’s, that are stuck, without food, unable to move and free themselves, with family members looking on helplessly, what I would consider a stressful situation for the animal, and yet they do no lash out at their rescuers. Luna, Morgan, two young Orca’s who lost their way, without maternal or familiar bonds, struggling to feed and stay alive…again, I would consider this a stressful situation, did they show signs of aggression? Repeatedly these animals have been pointed out as being extremely intelligent and very similar to humans, so how are we to say they are not as adaptive as we humans are? Most species, scientifically speaking, show indications of stress such as not eating, not breeding and not socializing….these are founded symptoms that we can observe and yet these animals show none of those indications. They eat well, breed well and remain socially active, so what scientific, discernible symptoms point to them being animals that “suffer for our delight”?

  • Wayne

    That girl was grabbed by her ponytail and dragged under water to her death. Why not forbid any trainer from having a ponytail as a simple start?

  • Renata Simone

    We made this documentary, “A Whale of a Business” for PBS’s FRONTLINE in 1997 — and although years have passed, the situation for marine mammals in captivity has not changed appreciably —


  • Laura Sheehan

    I strongly believe that Killer Whales should not be held in captivity. Their natural habitat is where they belong. Although it is very tragic that the trainer was killed they are wild animals that we are torturing by drastically changing their intended way of life.

  • j woods

    These magnificent animals simply do not belong in captivity. They need to be left in the wild as nature intended them to be.

  • John Totter

    I think you do a great job discussing many of your topics. However, there are many times when you seem to over sensationalise a story. “Killer” whales is one them. When this story first broke the BBC referred to these whales as “orcas”. No judging, no moral imposition, no anthropromorphising.
    I prefer to come to my own conclusions rather than having them imposed, thank you very much.

  • andrea

    Rarely do I agree with so many comments, but the ones already posted are poignant. I can’t remember hearing Tom cover a topic that made all the hairs on my arms stand up, and simultaneously, a voice in my head saying this is so wrong, wrong, wrong. The business of capturing orca’s or killer whales and the cries they make, so disturbing. I intend to read the guest’s article in Outside for my own educational purposes.

  • Steve T

    @ Margo:

    If I put YOU in a cage, put you on display, feed you a small bit of food if you do a trick, just when are you going to say I have had about enough of this.

    Nothing scientific, Oh bye the way people will pay to see you do tricks and clap a lot. But you won’t suffer.

  • Philip

    I have to object to the use of the term “psychotic.” It’s inaccurate. Psychosis involves a break between perception and reality, and inability to tell what is and is not real.

    The term you want is “psychopathic.” A psychopath is unable to feel empathy and lacks emotional intelligence. This is what makes them prone to violent and antisocial behavior. Tilikum’s actions in treating the trainer as a toy indicate he was unable or unwilling to consider the harm to her – he was only interested in her usefulness to him… as a toy.

    There’s some indication that an abusive childhood can trigger psychopathy in those with the right genetic makeup, whereas a “normal” family life might prevent those traits from manifesting. Would you call Tilikum’s childhood “normal.” Let’s see… traumatic separation from family, confinement with hostile cellmates, enslavement… I dunno folks. Looks normal to me.

  • jemimah

    This conversation is making me so heartsick. As most people have said above, why are these lovely creatures captive? How could anyone think they’re not unhappy being in a small (compared to the ocean) tank? We have the technical ability now to see them in their own environment, so do we really need to have them there for us to gaze at and be entertained by? We need to end this practice. This one and the whole business with dolphins in captivity, too. If you really want to be horrified, go see The Cove http://www.thecovemovie.com/
    We really need to take a look at our “humanity.”

  • Philip

    @Margo: Scientific evidence? You want hard numbers? I’d say the dramatic disparity in lifespan is a pretty good indication that captivity is not what’s best for these animals. That point’s already been discussed. You must have missed it.

  • Mark Simmons

    Tim – you are quoting disgruntled past employees of SeaWorld that have an axe to grind. Jett has no more than three years experience, never was approved to do show water work with killer whales, was not Tilikum’s “team leader”. Ventre was fired. Balcomb has never worked with whales in a zoological setting. You have given very little weight or “air time” to those with relevant and suffiecient experience to comment. If you give your audience 10% of the picture – their conclusions are dictated by ignorance. If this was meant to be a useful investigative journalism peice then try representing a balanced picture…leave the conclusions to the reader/listener. You cannot be an objective writer when your conclusion was preconceived.

  • BAS

    This whole business of performing whales reflects a prevalent and shallow interpretation of life as Entertainment and ‘subject’ for study only. We seem unable to acknowledge Life itself on its own terms, born into its own image and world and born to evolve in its own context. Aren’t we able to experience curiosity without creating all the changes that come with captivity and control? Curiosity about us and them in the same inquiry?

  • Jen Segal

    Such a thought provoking show. I feel that perhaps it’s time for we as humans to evolve from perceiving animals as entertainment. It reminded me of the tragic practice in Victorian England of exhibiting humans from other continents who were viewed as “exotic”. Let us become more enlightened regarding our fellow inhabitants of our planet. How could any animal whose natural environment is the ocean with all it’s complexities and depth flourish in an containment facility no matter how it’s dressed up. It seems akin to putting a human being in an isolation cell and expecting it to cooperate and enjoy it. It’s time for change. Thank you Tom Ashcroft for giving voice to this issue.

  • http://www.devorahmusic.com Debra “Devorah” Gottesman

    I’m in Friday Harbor, WA and will hear the program from my laptop shortly. The following video link has a moving song that was inspired by the work of Ken Balcomb (Center for Whale Research), and the powerful feelings generated from seeing the annual migration of these magnificent Orca whales.
    Devorah Gottesman

  • Diane McNally

    Thank you NPR for the On Point program on orca captivity. The science is in – orcas are highly, highly intelligent, use language and have discrete dialects, and live within lifelong matriarchal family bonds. Orcas have about the same lifespan as humans. Granny (J2 from J pod, San Juan Islands / Pacific Northwest Coast Southern Resident salmon eaters) is in her late 90s and still out there with her son J1 and the rest of J pod. They escaped the brutal roundup in Penn Cove in 1970, when baby Tokitae (Chinook word meaning “beautiful day” or ‘all the colours of the day”, later changed to “Lolita” ) was taken from her mother and family in L pod, and transported at two years of age to a barren concrete tank in the Miami Seaquarium, and made to do tricks day after day, for 40 years now, every minute of her life in a pool that is not as deep as she is long, and that is only 35 feet across. Her cellmate Hugo, captured from the same area 2 years previously, killed himself at 15 years of age by swimming at sped into the wall. Orcas learn quickly that any affection (“relationship sessions” used as a reward, poor substitute though it is for orca family life, is contingent on doing what they are told. Food is withheld to gain compliance. There is a science based plan to return her to a sea pen in the pacific Northwest where her mother still swims with L pod. Please do not support orca captivity with your dollars, or the artificial insemination procedures and captive breeding that result in babies who have no family to relate to or learn from. Jean-Michel Cousteau says “Maybe we, as a species, have outgrown the need to keep such wild, enormous, complex, intelligent, and free-ranging animals in captivity. [In captivity} their behavior becomes abnormal — even pathological. Maybe we have learned all we can from keeping them captive.” Find out more at savelolita.com and orcanetwork.org.

  • Margo

    @Steve Thanks for the offer, if you will take my bills, run my company and deal with my everyday life for me, I might be tempted to take you up on it:)

    @philip I have read many studies on life spans in this species, and none of them claim to be perfectly accurate. In fact, due to the relative short period we have studied this species in the wild, along with the short period they have been held in captivity to date, in commission to other species, I would say that a scientific comparison of life spans is difficult at best with current data.

    Tim – Thank you for your comment, and just to clarify, I have spent years behind the scenes in facilities where these creatures are cared for, SeaWorld being one of them. You are incorrect in stating that if I did so perhaps I would see the stress they endure, for with years under my belt, I have seen nothing of the sort. 100% of what Jett claimed is creative and imaginative, but hardly accurate.

    @Mark Thank you, very well said and unfortunately typical in this type of “story”.

  • John Jett

    Very predictable for those in the industry to launch attacks on character rather than address the issues.

    Just to correct Mr. Lacinak, I resigned at the “trainer” level. My employee evaluations were always excellent and I progressed through the ranks as quickly as a trainer could, although I wasn’t there long enough to achieve senior trainer level. If I was indeed a substandard trainer, then Sea World’s evaluation of my abilities was substandard as well. Toward the end I refused to begin collecting semen samples from Tili as I thought it was degrading to him. For this reason I was labeled a non team player. I resigned shortly thereafter.

    Also, to correct Mark Simmons (above), I spent four years at Sea World, not three, and I was indeed approved by Bill Davis (then park president) to do show waterwork. I have video that clearly contradicts his assertion. I did waterwork in shows regularly.

    According to Tim Zimmerman, Sea World would only allow one person from their park to talk to him during his research for the article. They wouldn’t allow him to see Tilikum either. Sea World apparently had an opportunity to present their side of the story, but instead chose secrecy. They have always chosen this approach.

  • Penny

    Why can’t scientists find a place in the ocean that would LIKELY be the best location for Tilikum? Dying while briefly free seems better than dying (slowly and pathetically) while in captivity.

    This story solidifies for me how completely heinous it is to capture animals for entertainment purposes, particularly when a family unit is broken. Why don’t human beings stop treating the creatures of this planet as though we own them? We simply DO NOT!

  • John Davis

    John Jett, thank you so much for being forthcoming with all your information. I also applaud you for not taking semen samples from Tilikum. I believe within the secret culture of Seaworld, that must have taken a huge amount of courage. I as well believe semen collecting to be degrading for the animal.

    We really applaud your for speaking out. You are doing a huge service to all Killer Whales and dolphins.

    Thanks again

  • http://www.SaveLolita.com Rodrigo Tefel

    “There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement.” – Jacques Cousteau

    “The death of the SeaWorld trainer is a tragedy that we all lament and must be seen as something going terribly wrong. I know that these trainers are dedicated to the care of these orcas and inspired by their passion for them. But this tragedy causes us to think. Maybe we as a species have outgrown the need to keep such wild, enormous, complex, intelligent and free ranging animals in captivity where their behavior is not only unnatural, it can become pathological. Maybe we have learned all we can from keeping them captive and asking them to perform for our pleasure and profit. Now we know, they are to the ocean what we are to the land. But all of our groundbreaking insights have been learned by diligently studying them in the wild, where we discovered that they have languages and relationships and complex societies… just like us. In captivity orcas cant even echolocate. They live in a world of sound and confining them between walls is like blindfolding a person. Putting them in a jail and expecting to learn something from them? We need to look at ourselves. and decide the time has come to view captivity of whales and dolphins as a part of our history, not a tragic part of our future.” – Jean-Michel Cousteau

    Thank you so much for your statements Mr. Jett.

  • john smith

    hey margo:
    You miss the point. in order to see whether you would go crazy(er) if imprisoned and treated similarly to the orcas, you don’t get to have a company, bills or any other vestiges of your current “life”. thats the point.
    By the way, you critize others for their supposed background biases; well, it turns out that you have a biase. as you yourself finally admit, you have a huge finnacial stake in expoiting imprisoned animals put on display for entertainment.
    Which brings up the issue of tad being put out there, claiming that he has no stake in this anymore. Well, first of all, he has an entire career of exploiting imprisoned animals to defend. But,that aside, he is currently running a company whose business is based on “training” imprisoned animals to be good “entertainers”
    ON POINT: how about less mccarthyism towards commentators’ reputations w/o at least giving them the opportunity to respond. Leting tad just attack the reputations of comentators is typical of your phony “balance” (that never seems to be applied to non-corporate, non-right-wing interests).

  • Steve T

    You are either a politician, or an air head.

  • john smith

    By the way, “Tilikum’s actions in treating the trainer as a toy indicate he was unable or unwilling to consider the harm to her – he was only interested in her usefulness to him… as a toy”

    when humans respond to wrongful imprisonment by jusing violence to either escape or stop the torture, or when a person captures and imprisons a wild animal for his or her (or for a zoo, etc) own pleasure do you call that person (or the zoo, etc) unable to consider the harm to the animal and thus psychopathic?

    Come on! A wild animal is not supposed to reacte violently to imrisonment, torture and and adequate food?
    GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!!!!!!

  • Margo

    John, you stated: “you criticize others for their supposed background biases; well, it turns out that you have a bias. as you yourself finally admit, you have a huge financial stake in exploiting imprisoned animals put on display for entertainment.”

    A. I did not criticize anyone, I merely stated, based on my experience and observation, I found Mr. Jett to be inaccurate.

    B. I did not state I have any financial stake in these parks, and I do not. Experience, does not equal financial stake.

    None of the responses provided any hard proof of the claim that captivity equals suffering for these animals, which leads me to believe, it is emotion and assumption. I was looking for actual reliable data, not story telling and I am not sure why that makes be either a good or bad person.

    And Steve, wrong on both accounts, not a politician and as to the other, well I will leave that game to the grade school kids:)

  • Marty

    Interesting that whenever whistleblowers finally peel back the curtain, industry tries to paint them as disgruntled employees or crazy environmentalists rather than focusing on facts.

    I would suggest that if Mark Simmons wants a useful investigative journalism piece representing a balanced picture he should openly discuss the activities of Ocean Embassy and his business of capturing and selling wild dolphins for entertainment purposes.

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    The act is criminal, deplorable. These magnificent creatures were not put on the earth for man’s profit, and entertainment. If you treated a dog in the manner described on the radio program, you would be arrested in this country. I believe the universal law of karma will justly take care of individuals that participate in the capture and profit of killer whales. If not you, your next generation will pay the karmic price, thank god.

  • Penny

    I agree with “stillin” that the act of kidnapping animals from their natural environment and their family members is not only deplorable, but should be considered a criminal act. We need to band together to make this practice ILLEGAL before even one more orca is stolen from the ocean.

    In addition, we need to BAN SEA WORLD and write to all of our friends imploring them not to spend money at atrocities such as Sea World and/or businesses of their ilk.

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Margo, let’s go back to when you were young..let’s separate you from your family, take you away to strange lands, and then, in a very small space, get you to perform for us. I will buy the first ticket ok? That’s what your comments are saying is ok to do to our earth’s beautiful killer whales, but when you experience it, I don’t think you’ll like it. Of course I am missing my scientific data, but I am not missing my heart or my mind.

  • Milo

    I just went to the website of Thad Lacinak. It says: “Thad was a Partner for Ocean Embassy where he oversaw project development as well as leadership and zoological consulting.”

    Ocean Embassy is focused on the capture, sale and display of formerly wild dolphins. Wow. I had no idea this practice was even legal and I am sure most Americans don’t know either. I guess these wild dolphins sell for as much as $100,000 and then are put in shows or swim with dolphin experiences all over the world.

  • tom

    Well I did it! I got to ask a live question on OnPoint radio. I was the one who asked about animal innocence. I’m not sure I agree with the guest because he said we might never know if animals are capable of malice because animals don’t talk. I for one hope and believe that we will one day know the answer.
    All in all I found the experience of asking a question live to be disconcerting. I must have listened on the phone to the program for close to 30 minutes before I got to state the question to Tom Ashbrook and I found myself fighting furiously with myself over whether to adjust my question to what I had been listening to for those 30 minutes. Ultimately I elected to stick fairly closely to my question but I shortened it considerably due to nervousness.

  • AmBee

    It sounds like Margo gets her scientific data from the Sea World employee manual. I suppose artificial insemination is her idea of breeding in captivity.

  • justanother


    You are part of the reasons for the birth of “animal right”.

    What you don’t understand is people in general are lack of compassion and empathy toward other species, to convince people to conserve the respect and right for those species, is to find a “link” somewhere human can relate other animals pain to ours. This is WHY marine scientists put a lot of energy and fund on finding this link, so people can feel more compassionate for whales.

    So my point is, you can not apply how human communicate to project other species. Our science is not that advanced yet to know every species, every so often through a long study, we come to realization of some amazing things how they survive and communicate within each other.

    I don’t believe in this notion that its’ fine to keep them captive if we can’t feel how they project their frustration and pain. And I can care less if today “human science” releases a study that it’s fine and dandy to keep them captive, because those study are not spoken by the creatures.

    And really? If I pay your bill, would you do tricks for me even when you don’t feel like, where’s your dignity? Oh, I forgot, you project yourself into those animals, they must not have one.

  • Susan

    One thing people are not discussing here is that Tili is a transient and did not belong in a resident pod. That meant he would have eaten marine mammals and not fish which could make him more aggressive than the other orcas.

    It’s hard to know what an orca is thinking or feeling. We can try and impose our human thoughts and emotions on them but there really is no way to confirm that they think and feel like we do.

    Intelligence does not indicate that they have emotions or feelings. We may see them caring for each other in the wild and refusing to leave stranded family members, but that may be instinct and not emotions.

    Tili is a wild animal. He was not born in a pool and we can assume that he misses having the ability to escape from uncomfortable situations. If he can’t escape those situations, like most animals, they react with violence.

    No one can say for certain what was going on in Tili’s mind when he grabbed Dawn’s pony tail and then drug her into the pool. He could have been angry or playful or he wanted to kill her. In her black and white wetsuit and her small size, he may have thought she was a seal and his pod eats marine mammals. We’ll never know, but the trainers need to be safe from attacks from him.

    I used to feel like many of you do, that orcas do not belong in captivity but with so many being born there, they can’t be released into the wild – it would be a death sentence for them.

    In the case of wild caught orcas, I believe they should be returned to the wild after their use as breeders has been served and I feel that the park that owns them, should do everything in their power to give those animals back to the wild.

  • justanother

    Sorry, I didn’t make myself clear about the link marine scientist try to find. It is “intelligence” they found in whales, so that they can convince people to conserve those creatures. Sadly human only feel compassionate if there’s certain relevance to ourselves. To be frank, intelligence is way over hyped by ourselves. If I have to rate human intelligence level, I say our level is, we are intelligent enough to “destroy” without realizing how destructive we can be, that’s how far we’ve evolved.

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Susan, “after their USE as breeders”…USE USE USE that’s not why they exist. We USE everything because we feel entitled to. We”re NOT. Their existance is not ours to control, to “expeirment with” to PROFIT FROM. It doesn’t matter what the whale thought of the trainer, the point is it never should have been in captivity in the first place. Up here, along the Canadian border, the slogan is, IF YOU CARE, LEAVE IT THERE. That applies to ALL LIVING THINGS.

  • justanother

    ***Ultimately I elected to stick fairly closely to my question but I shortened it considerably due to nervousness. — Tom ***

    But I admire your courage!

  • Margo

    I find it amazing that so many are willing to cast judgment on a person based on a simple question for scientific evidence or data. Truly is this what we have come to? I asked, so that everyone is clear, because when viewing a question as large as this, it is important to view all sides and do so with fact, not assumption. It was a valid question, but apparently the answer is, “no, we have no proof these animals are suffering, but if we say that then are so called “cause” is down the toilet, so instead of saying, no we do not, lets just attack the person asking the question!”. My response to Steve was ridicules on purpose, because instead of answer a question, he chose to use the typical “if it were you” garbage that simply does not work or apply in this discussion. It is what would be called a weak argument.

    Justanother, I am not the one projecting…..since I can not speak the language of the Orca, I am simply asking how we can claim, to know what they feel, think or want? This is the opposite of projecting. In captive studies on thousands of species, over years, has involved with some pretty clear indicators of captive stress levels. These are definable, and I was inquiring whether the same existed for this species.

    And a final comment…….I have not stated a position over Orca captivity, quite frankly because I do not have an informed opinion yet! Call me undecided, however, any thoughts I have in the future will be based on certifiable facts, not emotion…or speculation or half baked opinion. WHY, because that is what is fair to these magnificent creatures. When I read Tim’s article on this subject, and then saw the conversation taking place here, I though I would ask, since there seemed to be experts about, however, I see I was mistaken. Thanks all, this has been eye opening and educational, not about the Orca, but about Human nature!

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Margo, your “human” part of nature is missing, and that is truly frightening, I can only hope you never have kids. I just read the Outside magazine article on line, and I would rather see the killer whales dead than live the life they have of confinement for entertainment, profit and lastly, being masturbated by hand to help make more “baby killer whales ” to train, who will never live one second in the natural world is a mortal sin in my book. KARMAKARMAKARMA. Your science interest is like watching this poor whale grind his teeth down from stress, which is in the article and studying it thinking hmmm I wonder what that means? You don’t need a degree to recognize suffering, although I have a masters means nothing when it comes to that.

  • heather

    Susan, Tilikum is not a transient orca – transients, like you said, eat marine mammals. Have you seen SeaWorld throwing seal chunks to Tili? No, you see him eating fish. They don’t “convert” from one type of prey to another. In fact, many transient killer whales were captured for the captivity industry in the beginning, and they all starved to death because they wouldn’t eat fish, it’s just not food to them. Tili came from a resident pod off Iceland, who likely used to chase schools of herring. And Dawn did not look like prey. They’re not sharks, even if he was a transient, orcas have excellent eyesight both above and below water, and would not confuse a human in a black and white wetsuit with a seal, porpoise, or any other animal. Lol did he think a seal was his trainer, all these years?? But I digress, because like I said, Tili eats fish. His aggression likely stems from the deprivation from being in a tank most of his life, and the bullying from other orcas, something orcas do not deal with in the wild. This is just what happens with you take such and intelligent animal out of it’s home, kidnapped from his family. They lash out. You would too after a couple decades.

  • http://www.orcanetwork.org Howard

    Stepping back a bit, and having been involved in captivity issues and history for about 15 years, I’m seeing a tidal shift in public opinion about the wisdom and ethics of keeping orcas in captivity. There are probably internal polls at SeaWorld to guide public relations efforts, but from what I’m seeing, especially since the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau, the overwhelming opinion in the media and in comments has been that orcas shouldn’t be in captivity in the first place. Tim mentioned Jean-Michel Cousteau’s comment that the value of orcas in captivity expired long ago. We’ve gotten over our fear of them, but now it’s time to get past our exploitation of orcas as commodities in the entertainment business. There is still so much about orcas to appreciate and learn from in their natural habitats and societies.

  • heather

    “Repeatedly these animals have been pointed out as being extremely intelligent and very similar to humans, so how are we to say they are not as adaptive as we humans are?”

    Adaptive? So you’re saying that if monkeys had kidnapped you as a child from your parents, put you in a tiny room with little boys from Russia, France, and Iraq, let them beat up on you every day, gave you live chickens to have to chase down and eat (probably the equivalent of giving them dead fish) and made you do stupid animal tricks everyday while loud music pumped in your room, and then this everyday routine went on for a couple decades, you’d be able to adapt to it? You’d be completely normal, without any stress, mental issues, or anger?

    Not likely.

    Like Tim went on to say, the stress is obvious in the aggression they have with one another (not a normal occurrence in their tight family pods)short life spans, and “psychotic” behaviors. Hugo, an orca from the Miami Seaquarium used to beat his head against the concrete walls of his tank. One day he actually sliced off the tip of his rostrom (nose) and it had to be reattached. He died of brain hemorrhaging from his repeated self mutilation. Many dolphins and whales have this same issue. To me, that suggests serious stress.

  • Lisa

    The broader question is why keep orcas and dolphins in captivity when we know about their intelligence, complex family relationships, and culture? Why deprive them in concrete chlorinated tanks from their vast, sensory rich oceans? Why force them to perform unnatural tricks and abuse them with artificial insemination? Why cause attacks on humans in captivity, aggression between captive whales not seen in the wild, and early captive whale deaths? What does this say about our own intelligence and humanity?

    SeaWorld and the multi-billion dollar captive industry with its enormous advertising resources continues its worn out, self-perpetuating argument about displaying whales and dolphins for educational purposes.

    Orcas do not kill humans in the wild. No captive whales = no deaths for humans and whales.

  • justanother


    I guess when you pointed out on your first post, you labeled people who respect animals as “animal right activist complaint is simple”. You did open yourself up for debate from all directions. Your intention of presenting questions and doubt is legitimate, but your question and doubt all gear toward “science” after the fact of human violation on the wild animals. Those animals were not captured for the reason of giving them “better and comfortable life”, their are in captivity for the sheer reason of our entertainment. Captive environment got improved and more humane over decades, but it’s not because all of a sudden those people come to their conscience, it is because their cruel and abusive environment got exposed to the public by some compassionate animal lover, regulations and policies started to get implemented.

    So I challenge you to go back the very beginning intention of human violations on captive animals, not to use “human science” religiously, please do use some of your compassion and emotion toward animals.

    Are you suggesting to jail someone before we find the evidence (science), or if we never find it, oh well, too bad, this person’s not capable of talking, communicating, probably too depressed or mind f**ked to protest, and you are perfectly ok with it?

    Yes, trying to understand human nature (ourselves) before we lock up those animals is a right way to go. :-)

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    What organization do I join to help bring an end to this uneducated practise? It reminds me of the slave trade but with Orca’s..makes me want to make to powerpuke.

  • Miguel

    With respect to the above post one certainly would not join Mark Simmons and Thad Lacineck’s Ocean Embassy as they are actively involved in the dolphin slave trade. Their company is doing poorly financially, all should be on the look out for more slave trade sale of dolphins in the future.

  • Margo

    For all of those wishing to judge and question my character, let me explain it this way, though I hold little doubt that it will make a difference to any of you and I could care less. This explanation is for Tim and Tom, as well as Ken.

    I ask the question of whether there is scientific data to support the deduction of these animals suffering in their care at SeaWorld, out of concern for the animal. There is little doubt in my mind that wild capture is cruel, and if the practice where still being done today, I would be one of the first to speak out against SeaWorld, or any other park that did obtain their animals this way. Knowing that a majority of these animals where born in captivity, and those that were captured in the wild, have lived in captivity for a long time. It seems to me, doubly cruel, to uproot them once again, and in effect discard them to a life they have either never known, or have not known in a long time. It was mentioned today, that even the experts agree that release for these animals is not a viable option. So, my question stands, if there is no proof, no indication other that emotion and assumption, that these animals are currently suffering. In fact, if these animals are eating, breeding (and a note that AI has not been utilized often, most conceptions at SeaWorld were and are natural) and leading an active life, then would it not be just as evil to take that from them now?
    These are my thoughts, and I do not expect or care if others share them, it is simply why I asked a question. And I basically got the answer I was looking for!

    I asked the question in hopes that Ken, would answer, since he is actually an expert in this case, and could respond to wild behavior. We have witnessed these animals in conditions that would be considered stressful and I was curious as to what experts would consider definable proof of suffering. I would never think to accuse another person of being psychotic, without some definitive markers to base that diagnosis, and I do not believe the same can be done with animals, Whether we can speak to them or not, there would be indicators of stress that could be looked for.

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Margo, your intellectualizing suffering is gross. According to the article from Outside Magazine…”born in captivity” means a person physically masterbates a wild orca and steals it’s sperm…sure, that’s one way of saying “born in captivity” As far as “uprooting” them, back to square one, which doesn’t require intellectualizing…uprooting them from their deprivation tanks? Uprooting them from the natural world they were born into? Uprooting them from what kind of existance?You’re wrong on your statement that they are not currently suffering…that’s what most of the article is about had you read it. Lastly, to get away from that devious little trick called intellectualizing…let me put it to you this way, when I stick the knife in you and you bleed does it hurt? Or does it tickle? Let me intellectualize on that for a while. hmmm let’s see…I don’t know I will have to touch base with my experts on that….

  • justanother

    There are rehabilitation programs to reintroduce captive wild animals back into wild. When some people argue that would be just as cruel to introduce them to an unfamiliar and unprotected new environment, those rehabilitation are introduced slowly, not abruptly, it took a while, until they are able to adapt and survive in the wild. Usually these programs are run by people do really care and respect wildlife, not for profit agenda. With that said, not all programs are successful or closely monitor due to insufficient funding. That’s why I’m whole hearted in supporting & promoting these programs financially, especially focusing on their future generations.

  • Charu

    Sea World is an anachronic entertainer we have allowed to exist to fulfil American/human idealism. Enough of capitalistic tourism/voyeurism at the expense of wild animals that should roam free (which is already impossible thanks to human development and greed). THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE, again and again. Please read “Selling Yellowstone: Capitalism and the Construction of Nature
    “First marketed as a nature museum to be viewed from the comfort of stagecoach seats or hotel room windows, the park was transformed from a wilderness preserve to a series of roadside attractions. Roads were built to geysers and waterfalls; wolves were eliminated and bison were bred; visitors were given a choice between comfortable hotels and more rustic lodges and camps. The Yellowstone Park Company sought to meet all of the public’s expectations, reaping the profits from satisfying American idealizations” And so we go with the planet’s oceans…..

  • Margo

    @stillin Most of your comment I will ignore, for there is a chance based on your conversational skills that you are a child, at least that is how it comes across and I do not wish to offend a child. However, as to the captive births, perhaps a bit more research than a single article might broaden your horizons, for a majority of the births at SeaWorld were due to natural conception not AI. I would describe for you the difference, but that is a subject better left for your parents.

    @justanother can you answer for me, or cite the programs you mention and their success rates? I know that this is not possible for the Orca, for it has only been attempted once, and was neither a success nor a failure in my opinion. But with other cetaceans, have there been cases of captive born, or long term captives released with a modicum of success?

    Again, I realize this question will raise hackles, for I am looking for scientific documentation, however, in good faith, many could not consider such an endeavor without some comfort that it would be in the best interest of the animal. Since we have not established they are “suffering” in their current environment, I wonder exactly what the risk would be, and can only look to successful attempts to consider such a direction.

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Margo, go to your intellectual dictionary and look up “heart”, then look up “emotion” and possibly “suffering”…I know it’s a stretch since I can perceive you are stuck in the intellectual prison that you master! I feel very sorry for you and your entire perception is exactly the kind of “adult” I never want to be. As far as the “natural conception” you once again fail to see, denial? I believe so…that there’s nothing natural about conception with confined wild animals. For someone soooo intellectual, you seem unable or unwilling, to grasp the real content here…I wish you much luck in your struggle…and I wonder who is paying you.

  • John

    Hi Tom,

    Please, please, please encourage the author of the Outside Magazine article to do a follow up article on the Orca whale chasing industry that exists in norther Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, Victoria and Vancouver B.C.

    Over 100 boats a day chase after few than 100 resident killer whales in an industry that has turned their wild habitat into something akin to an entertainment zone like that of the confined spaces of Seaworld style franchises.

    This group of whales is diminishing in number and if you can imagine the sound of a hundred high and moderate speed chase boats on a species that relies on hearing to exist, well, it is a circus to put it lightly.

    I have been on these cruises because I know someone very well who is a part of this fuel intensive, noise intensive and intrusive industry.


  • j-d schall

    I’m responding to Renata Simone’s post

    “We made this documentary, “A Whale of a Business” for PBS’s FRONTLINE in 1997 — and although years have passed, the situation for marine mammals in captivity has not changed appreciably —


    Posted by Renata Simone, on July 21st, 2010 at 11:14 AM”

    I would really like to see this, it is out of stock at PBS, where can I view or find a copy of this program?

    Thank you To the Point for linking to Tim Zimmerman’s article. And thank you Tim for researching and writing it!!

  • jv
  • Sandra

    Evidence that stress (including small living spaces, forced social groupings that wouldn’t exist in the wild and chemically-altered water) may contribute to the aggressive nature of captive killer whales as opposed to killer whales in the wild. Life expectancy of captive killer whales are significantly shorter than those in the wild. Additionally, killer whales that are held in captivity show a number of pathologies that differentiate them from creatures in the wild, including collapsed dorsal fins.
    Deborah Giles, a marine biogeographer at the University of California, Davis, with 20 years‘ experience observing wild killer whales, explains why there is little scientific and no conservation value in keeping these ocean giants (Orcinus orca) in captivity.
    One claim commonly made by marine parks to rationalize keeping whales in captivity is that they provide an environmental or conservation message to the viewing public that helps killer whales in the wild. Because there is no scientific evidence to support the claim by some exhibitors that the environmental or conservation education provided to spectators is effective in changing people‘s behaviours in ways that actually benefit wild whales or their habitats, captive breeding should be terminated and captive whale shows should be phased out as a form of for–profit entertainment.
    Research on wild whales is not contingent on any information we may learn from captives. In fact, it can be argued that the captive whale does not make an appropriate proxy for their wild counterparts given the artificial environment of a marine park including the chlorinated water in their tanks, the lack of space needed for optimal whale health and the altered diet of dead and frozen fish and vitamin supplements.

  • justanother


    When I said I support captive-born or wild-caught “reintroduction”, I meant for all wild animals, not only limited to cetacean, or any other specific species.

    I believe we are all aware of the impact of wild animals being captive in confined/controlled environment or being released into the wild. But what really separates us is our focus and approach. My focus is to put money and energy on developing better technique and monitoring system to record all the details back to a centralized organized wildlife conservation, that goal is to increase the successful rate, instead of giving up hopes and future for those captive-born or wild-caught animals. And using the excuses of “low successful rate” of reintroduction is not only lazy but irresponsible.

    I don’t need to provide you in details what materials I have read and been exposed to , in fact, as you have presented yourself like an expert on the issue of “reintroduction”, you should know where they are available. Often times, they are not big and under funded.

    Following post is just from one of them, read on…..

  • justanother

    Revisiting the Effects of Captive Experience on Reintroduction Survival in Carnivores
    Kristen R. Jule

    “Over the past several decades, reintroduction has become a popular tool in conservation. Since many wild populations are declining, captive-bred stock are increasingly used to restore or supplement wild populations. Previous investigations into the success of reintroduction projects using captive-born animals found relatively low success rates (means ranging from 11-38%); whereas mean success rates for projects reintroducing translocated wild-caught animals ranged from 31-75%. Disparity between the successes of projects using captive-born versus those using wild-caught animals suggests that there are additional factors contributing to the failure of captive-born animals released into the wild.

    These figures are from reviews published in the early 1990s, and since then very little research has sought to update these figures. The frequency of reintroduction projects over the past 10 tp 20 years has markedly increased, thus it seems reasonable to assume that success rates should improve given our increasing experience in reintroduction techniques. In order to have a better understanding of the current success of reintroductions, a review was carried out on carnivore reintroduction projects that published or reported their results post 1990 up to, and including, 2005. However, this review used survival instead of measuring overall project success – which is a subjective measurement. Not only can survival be used as an assay of animal welfare but also as a tool to assess factors contributing to individual successes or failures.

    We focussed on carnivores because they are well represented in reintroduction programmes; this can be explained by the taxonomic bias found in species selected for conservation, where efforts are biased towards mammals, in particular ungulates and carnivores. Carnivores are particularly worthwhile to study in a conservation sense given their rapidly declining wild populations and their relatively poor response to captivity (i.e., high levels of abnormal behaviours and poor breeding success). There are many risks involved in reintroducing captive animals, however a main concern is that animals in captivity often show a loss of natural behaviours associated with fitness in the wild; in carnivores this is particularly with regard to hunting and breeding.

    Based on a review of 45 projects of 17 carnivore species, results indicate that less than one in three captive-born carnivores released into the wild is likely to survive (32%) and only 52% of translocated wild-caught carnivores are likely to survive. Looking at survival rates as opposed to subjective measures of project success allows for investigation at the individual level, which will help to identify factors contributing to individual successes and failures. It is important to distinguish not only between survival and mortality of the individuals released, but also between survival and reproductive success upon release. The distinction between project success and survivability also allows for the opportunity to consider the welfare of the animals released, since many captive-born carnivores die of starvation or of direct human contact, e.g., gun shots and motor accidents, and it is important that these factors are taken into consideration when planning a reintroduction. However, the overall success of the project is still essential to understanding the combined dynamics involved in successful reintroductions, such as appropriate habitat selection, budgeting financial costs, public support and so on.

    Unfortunately, it is difficult to find reintroduction projects which report not only survivability but also reproductive success. Long-term monitoring is often costly and difficult to carry out, but it is essential if our aim is to increase the viability of reintroduction as a conservation tool. Given that survival rates are still relatively low and have not significantly improved over the past few decades, it is vital that we encourage all reintroduction projects (both successful and unsuccessful) to report their results so that we can improve the likelihood of survival for individual animals, both captive-born and wild-caught, as well as increase successful breeding upon release into the wild.

    It is critical that there is further investigation into the effects of captivity on survival upon release into the wild as well as the viability of releasing captive-born animals into the wild for conservation purposes. Reintroduction methods and techniques need to be improved and recommendations should become more widely available to international agencies and institutions. Agencies and researchers should collaborate and work in conjunction with each other in order to better future conservation efforts.”

    Originally published as:
    Jule, K.R., L.A. Leaver and S.E.G. Lea. 2008. The effects of captive experience on reintroduction survival in carnivores: A review and analysis. Biological Conservation 141(2): 355-363.

  • justanother

    And Margo, I always believe this truth, when there’s a “heart”, there’s a “will”. I’m just not sure where your heart is……

  • AmBee

    If Sea world and other captive institutions put as much money in research and developing means of successful release of marine captives as they put in advertising,(similar to BP and Big Oil putting money towards oil spill clean-up before it actually happens) the success rate could be off the charts…oops, there I go dreaming again.

  • justanother

    After I listened to the show, put aside how those animals really feel, the debate is our responsibilities of the consequence once human keep them in captive. In the wild, human didn’t put our finger print on their mortality, their survival, but once they are captive, we are responsible from the day they get caught till the day they die. Can anyone live with their conscience that an animal will live for the rest of their life in isolation NOT by their choice?

    And, Margo, we need to go forward by stopping keeping wild animals captive, it is the saddest and cruelest thing when an animal or any life left HAVING NO CHOICE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Pavel T.

    I applaud John Jett’s stand on this issue. It’s better leave, then stain your soul. Margo has to understand that people sometimes (perhaps, like herself), defend their point and pretend to be inpartial, whereas they are not (you report being involved for many years in this industry, and therefore, HAVE VESTED INTEREST). It takes courage to do 180-degree turn, after you have traveled so far.
    I know, there are lots of wonderful people who work with those animals. Yet, asking their opinion what they think about “stress level” that captive orcas experience, is like asking jail guards what they think about well- being of prisoners that they are guarding. Most would be very proud of the job they are doing. And most will express, how important their job is. Yet, your self-evaluation is worthless, for as long, as your are getting a paycheck and you have VESTED INTEREST in this business. (Or had for many years).
    After I have done few dives with coral fish and other marine creatures in the wild, in their natural habitat, I find it very difficult to observe them in aquariums. It actually, turns your stomack…

  • Elena Phrydas

    Imagine capturing a human, or saving it and placing it in a circus to perform unnatural tricks countless amounts of times, new day new faces that need to be entertained, how exhausting is that?!! That poor whale has is trained for no benefit other than those behind it all making a profit out of these whale’s slave labour. Just because it looks magnificient it doesn’t mean it’s right, its so cruel and so sad that these whales are still in aquariums. People get caught up in seeing these whales perform one twice.. etc, but these whales have to do the same thing over and over, in cramped conditions, no wonder they switch, im sorry but how can you be part of that and not count your blessing each time you work with that whale. Just let it be, let it act naturally and act in the animals best interest and maybe just maybe it might not direct it anger and frustration and the trainer, the person making it do all these things! It’s sad that the trainer died, but only sad for the whale because he now probably looks like he’s done something terrible, sorry but that trainer did not repsect the whale and it’s so its not suprising that after X amount of time, the whale lost respect for the trainer.

  • Kate

    Neko Case wrote the song “People Got a Lotta Nerve” from the point of view of a killer whale. Here’s a verse:
    You know they call them killer whales
    But you seem surprised
    When it pinned you down to the bottom of the tank
    Where you can’t turn around
    It took half your leg and both your lungs
    And I craved I ate hearts of sharks, I know you know it
    I’m a man man man man, man man man eater
    But still you’re surprised prised prised when I eat ya


  • justanother


    My heart bleeds for those creatures!

    According to the experienced trainers and others have studied them, they seem to know when NOT to kill, and when TO kill by choice.

  • Betsy

    I listened intently and sadly to yesterday’s On Point. My response to it is to cry, tearlessly, in a deep sense of sadness and despair. Years ago, late 60′s, I visited San Diego Sea World when they first had the “killer” whale shows. It was fascinating and, knowing nothing of the backstory, I bought into the myth, as I now see it, that the whales were not unhappy, perhaps even happy. I am ashamed of myself for that – and, learning more, doubting that a large creature could be “happy” in a small pool, subsequently on visits to Sea World refused to see the show … and then refused to patronize Sea World.

    I don’t think it is helpful to demonize and sneer at “Margo.” She asks valid questions to which there are not – yet – answers. Science and human learning progresses and at some point we, as a species, will know some of the answers and will be able to communicate with other species. The less thoughtful, if not more stupid of us will always find it easy to dismiss with sneers what one disagrees with.

    Seems to me that until we do know, until we can communicate with others (and, remember, it wasn’t that long ago that humans denied that other creatures communicated), we, as a species and as individuals, should not participate in what is clearly cruel, the capture, the keeping of any wild animals in sensory deprivation quarters which have no reasonable resemblance to the wild.

    Sad that the “trainer” died; sadder that she spent her life “training” a once wild and free creature to perform in a pool. And a tragedy for the creature. Comparing Sea World and its ilk to a prison is not correct: the human prisoners have been adjudicated wrong-doers; these orcas and dolphins are prisoners of our ignorance and, sometimes, greed.

    Humans, generations from now, will be appalled at what we’ve done to the natural world. Even as we as a species have nearly extinguished our closest relatives, the chimps and greater apes, appreciating finally, thanks to Jane Goodall and others, their closeness to us, it’ll be longer before we can learn enough to be able to communicate with the marine creatures. Even if we can’t appreciate a wild creature’s equality, it’s worth thinking ahead about what we’re leaving – and, too often, destroying for those in the future. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” is morphing into empty seas.

    Someone mentioned about rehabilitation programs that reintroduce. Could someone provide references of those programs worth supporting?

  • Janet L

    As we listened to this wonderful show my husband and I were struck by the foolish arrogance of the human race. Who are we to capture these incredible animals and assume that by placing them in captivity they are going to be better off than in the wild. My heart breaks for these creatures. It is one more example of the negative impact we are imposing upon our earthly home. We, as humans, are imposing on their space… We should always live by the credo “first do no harm”.

  • justanother

    To stillin & Betsy,

    I have supported WWF, PETA, HSUS, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club. Sometimes I donate or sign petition toward special campaign, sometimes I made general contribution to those groups.

    I don’t work for any of the above organizations, I don’t have any hidden profit agenda, except my only agenda is my compassion toward nature, and combat for respectful treatment for all life on earth.

    I’m thankful for what people do to raise awareness and exposure on those often time overlooked issues in human society.

  • justanother

    Most of above mentioned non-profit organization are U.S. based, except WWF. I just came across a U.K. group, CAPS (The Captive Animals’ Protection Society).

    They are all very educational and informative. I usually do some research to read about them, how they present issues from all sides, how they manage to deal with issue, which helps me to decide whether I contribute to them or not.

    WWF has gone a little cozy with corporations, I stopped contributing to them for now, not because they accept corporation fund, I just need to read more about how much trade off from getting corporation money.

  • millard_fillmore

    John Davis wrote:
    “I as well believe semen collecting to be degrading for the animal.”


    In that case, the next ‘On Point’ program should focus on the dairy industry and how semen is collected from bulls and how cows are mechanically impregnated so that they can continue to provide milk.

  • mallard_fillmore

    “The broader question is why keep orcas and dolphins in captivity when we know about their intelligence, complex family relationships, and culture?”

    Does that imply that if an animal species does not display intelligence, complex family relationships, and culture – as we humans define and perceive it – then it is OK to capture them and place them in Seaworld (or similar amusement park)?

  • millard_fillmore

    “We’ve gotten over our fear of them, but now it’s time to get past our exploitation of orcas as commodities in the entertainment business. There is still so much about orcas to appreciate and learn from in their natural habitats and societies.”


    This is the same mentality that gave rise to the slave trade and legitimization of it by the Abrahamic religions. That is the West’s gift to the world.

  • justanother

    Another good way to spread the awareness is to share our information with friends and families. There are plenty people out there love animals, often times referring to our house pets. But wildlife seems so detached from most people’s daily life, while wildlife suffering on daily basis. Most of us feel compassionate in the moment we were being exposed to these issues, then went about our business next day, simply sometimes we are just too busy to juggle our own issues. But once we learn to connect all the dots together, we are able to see those seemed so far-fetched problems eventually rippled closer to us.

  • justanother

    ****“The broader question is why keep orcas and dolphins in captivity when we know about their intelligence, complex family relationships, and culture?”

    Does that imply that if an animal species does not display intelligence, complex family relationships, and culture – as we humans define and perceive it – then it is OK to capture them and place them in Seaworld (or similar amusement park)?****


    That is so true! Not trying to be hard on the people who think this way. I was sold on this way of thinking too. This is the tactic that wildlife experts and scientists use to close the gap between human and other endangered species, in order to gain compassion for conservation.

    But later I challenge this thinking, I realize how elementary level it is. :D

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Cnn currently has a “summer theme park” article up, great opportunity to post a BOYCOTT ALL WATER PARKS USING SEA ANIMALS FOR ENTERTAINMENT and start the push to educate everybody on the inhumane capture and treatment of these magnificent animals. Direct them to Tim’s enlightening article.

  • David Bogoian

    Hi Tom,
    You might try getting John Lilly on your show to talk about the study of cetaceans in captivity. He studied dolphins in the ’60′s, I believe; and, if I’m recalling things accurately, he could stomach it no more and released his subject animals.
    Too many people think this planet turns because they’re on it. The first corrective is to get past this narrow, selfish, anthropormorhic mindset. People who are confined to relatively small spaces for any length of time are considered prisoners or worse. Look at the science:- an orcas brain is bigger than ours and just as complex. There are animals on the planet as smart as us; just not as violent and overly impressed with themselves.

  • justanother


    Thank you for sharing the song by Neko Case “People Got a Lotta Nerve”.

    Chilling, eerie, heartbreaking, but beautiful!!!

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    Thank you Tim for such an enlightening article and for the radio program too, the veil is removed and now we can all see can’t we? I am excited to put my fiery energy into this field when I am done with my art career…can’t wait. No money, but ideas and energy are just as important as the almighty dollar.

  • http://www.timzimmermann.com Tim Zimmermann

    For anyone who is not thoroughly exhausted by now, I address questions related to the interests and motivations on all sides in a post here: http://timzimmermann.com/2010/07/22/diary-of-a-killer-whale-analyzing-sources-and-motivations/

  • justanother


    Your “Diary Of A Killer Whale: Analyzing Sources And Motivations” confirms my question about the honesty and sincerity of Thad Lacinak.

    I appreciate your approach in being an honest and in depth journalist, without prejudice. Although it can be hard not to sometimes, no matter how “balance” we can be, but there’s always a moral compass magnet pull us toward which is “be true to ourselves”.

  • justanother

    ***L78′s dorsal fin stands proud and straight as a knife, with none of Tilikum’s marine-park flop. He hunts when he’s hungry, mates with the females who offer themselves, and whistles to the extended family that is always nearby. He cares nothing for humans and is all but oblivious to their presence when they paddle out in kayaks to marvel as he swims. He knows nothing of the life of Tilikum or the artificial world humans have manufactured for him. But Tilikum, before 26 years in marine parks, once knew L78′s life, once knew what it was like to swim the ocean alongside his mother and family. And perhaps, just perhaps, that also helps explain why Dawn Brancheau died. — The Killer in the Pool***

    Heart breaking……..

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    It is heart breaking…but a broken heart can be a good thing because it means you can still feel, and when you CAN’T , then you have become something other than a human being.

  • Jules

    If we want to stop seeing orcas in captivity, then let’s not PAY to see them in captivity. If we don’t support the marine park industry, then the business of confining orcas will cease to exist …eventually. I would rather pay to see wild orcas in the ocean being free.

    Great article in OUTSIDE online by Tim Zimmermann!

  • wuji

    give the Whales freedom,so no one will hurt any more

  • justanother

    ***give the Whales freedom,so no one will hurt any more***

    That’s the whole point, thank you!

  • Gina

    I can’t believe that the retired executive of Sea World doesn’t think that Tillikum is exhibiting isn’t psychotic. He’s a social animal, very attached to family in the wild, they swim for miles everyday. Much like you or I, and the man who criticized Balcomb. Why is it so hard for them to relate to the animals in these ways and see that Tillikum has lived the life of a prisoner in a small cell surrounded by aggressive inmates. If a prisoner serving a life sentence killed three guards, even if the prisoner was retarded or intelligent he’d be treated with caution and considered dangerous and yes, psychotic. It makes me so mad how these pro captivity people try to shift the focus on their critics. They avoid debating the topic but instead debate the debaters. Stupid.

  • Simon

    It is more likely that the whale was using the trainer as a toy and did not understand the activity would drown her. The history of this animal in captivity supports that theory.

  • ScoobyDoo63

    I am not sure that Tillikum deliberately killed anyone.  Humans are very small compared to Orcas & as he was once a wild Orca maybe he does not connect that we are also sentent beings & saw the people as toys.  None of these Orcas should be in captivity.  I don’t think he would survive alone in the wild because his teeth have been drilled down – so killing large prey would be out of the question.  I think he is definatley depressed & needs to be back in his own pod – near Iceland I think – then he might have a chance of survival as they may help him.  Maybe introductions would have to happen while he was in a very large netted area where his original pod could come and visit at first.  The whole idea of kidnapping a young free wild highly intelligent sentient animal with strong bonds to its mother and other relatives and making a slave of him is abhorrant. I think it is possible that he is completely aware of his situation and has become mentally ill as a result, especially since his best friend died.  Research also shows that most Cetaceans are more intelligent than humans – so ignorance and insensitivity on our part is the cause of his misery and everyone can see that.

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Sep 1, 2014
This Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 photo shows a mural in in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago dedicated to the history of the Pullman railcar company and the significance for its place in revolutionizing the railroad industry and its contributions to the African-American labor movement. (AP)

On Labor Day, we’ll check in on the American labor force, with labor activist Van Jones, and more.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
The Five Midterm 2014 Races To Watch
Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014

The five most interesting races of the 2014 midterm election cycle, per our panel of expert national political correspondents.

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Our Week In The Web: August 29, 2014
Friday, Aug 29, 2014

On hypothetical questions, Beyoncé and the unending flow of social media.

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Drew Bledsoe Is Scoring Touchdowns (In The Vineyards)
Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

Football great — and vineyard owner — Drew Bledsoe talks wine, onions and the weird way they intersect sometimes in Walla Walla, Washington.

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