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Virgil the Hound - A wonderful poem about a foxhound that does not want to hunt foxes.
The Tragic Life of Tilikum is Coming to an End - He is Dying

The Tragic Life of Tilikum is Coming to an End
He is Dying


June Issue 2016

Copyright © Tere Albanese. All rights reserved.

Bidding Farewell to Tilikum

On January 5th, 2015, I read that Tillikum was dying. I knew that Tilikum had been involved with three deaths, but I didn’t know the details and I wanted to know what his story was, so I wrote an article about his life. In writing about Thilikum’s life, it was impossible not to learn about the abhorrent history of marine parks and the big business of capturing sea faring animals and selling them into exploited slavery. That is not is not a dramatic rhetorical description of what the whales go through. It’s a spot on, accurate description. And since individuals define themselves and others by their political party association these days, I am not a liberal nor am I a conservative. I am an independent that looks at issues using common sense and when using common sense, what is being done to these animals is wrong, plain and simple.

 The history of the industry is the story of Tilikum’s life. Not only was he the poster child of the Shamu show, he is the poster child for the abuse imposed upon marine animals in marine parks.

 Thirteen months after the article was published, Tilikum was euthanized on January 6th, 2017. I was online and I glanced at the story about him and when I read "Tilikum is Dead," I burst into tears. It can be compared to watching your dog as they age so quickly before you. You know there isn’t much time left, but having that knowledge still never prepares you for when death takes them, or when you have to make that horrible decision to bring death to them.

 I cannot describe to you the way Tilikum’s death made me feel. I see so much suffering on factory farms, in slaughter houses, animals being skinned alive, animals being mutilated. Animals in laboratories, dairy cows who give birth and have their babies ripped away from them, again and again and again. They cry for their babies and the babies cry for their mothers. It is just as it was for Tilikum and his mother. They are mothers and mothers protect their children and they instinctively know that their calves need to nurse in order to survive. And I cry and I get so, so angry and so very sad. I wonder if it ever end, but I know it never will, not all of it, but that’s another story. There are so many stories.

 None of these horrific examples of animal cruelty, and there are many more then I cited here, are any less egregious then the suffering of Tilikum, but to endure 34 years of torture that Tilikum endured, like many other marine mammals and seafaring animals endure, is different. In the cases mentioned, we have videos of the torture that animals endure. And for those of us that are willing to look, there is no mistake that it is torture. However, the torture that takes place in marine parks is cleverly veiled. It hides behind a curtain of a strategically crafted facade showing what appears to be relentlessly happy whales and dolphins. And we believe them. I believed them.
The whales have the best medical care. They are fed well and those individuals and trainers that work with the whales, obviously love them. But why do they love them? For sure, it is a tainted love. And the whales seem so happy entertaining all the people that are spellbound by them. I have been a vegetarian for 25 years and a hard core vegan for the last 10 years, yet I was captivated by the wonderful shows they put on. So much so, I was brought to tears. I wanted to be one of those trainers that had such a magical relationship with these gorgeous and incredible animals. I was captivated by the way they would come to the window and look at the people, look at me. I was captivated by how intelligent they are and captivated by how relentlessly happy everyone was.

 But I saw something in their eyes that didn’t make sense. One whale in particular pierced my heart with his glare. He looked right into my eyes and reached into my soul. I didn’t know what it was, but it was a look of longing, pleading and sadness.

 ”Relentlessly,” “relentlessly happy,” a descriptive phrase that was used by Tim Zimmermann, who has written extensively on SeaWord and was the co-producer of the expose, Black Fish. It is a stroke of literary genius to describe the façade of happiness at any marine park as “relentlessly happy.” Yet, as captivated by everything that I saw, ironically, I overlooked the fact that the whales were captives.   

 After writing the article on Tilikum, I understood the longing I saw in the whale’s eyes.

 I overlooked the fact that these individuals, so called “trainers” were driving the whales slowly out of their minds, killing them slowly and simultaneously reaping huge monetary benefits and fame. The trainers do love them, but not in the way you love your pets, not the way you love your children. They love them because being able to control killer whales feeds their ego. And they do control them and the whales know that they are trapped. There is no escape. The trainers lie to themselves and they lie to the public. And I admit, I believed them, until I looked into it and found the distorted truth. Until I read the history of the industry. Until I read the history of Tilikum. Until I saw Black Fish. How wrong I was. How exploited I was, just as the whales are exploited and everyone else that pays to see them is exploited.

 People don’t want to believe the truth because it would mean giving something up. A commentator on one of the news channels blasted PETA for being instrumental in causing SeaWord to stop their captive breeding program. He said that SeaWorld was part of Americana. Unfortunately, it is. But so is slavery and President Jackson’s destruction of the American Indians’ culture. I don’t carry twenty dollar bills because his picture is on them. I quote the news commentator here, “How hard can it be? They do a couple of tricks and they get a handful of fish. How hard can it be?” These are top predators of the sea. They are the kings of their jungle. They hate what they are being made to do. The public has no idea that the whales have been beating trainers up and nearly killing them since the 1960s when this industry began.

The whales hate the trainers.

 But what can they do? Where would they go? How would they get there? They are trapped.

 It must be about eight years ago, I remember seeing an octopus in the Rome Zoo. He was in a tank the size of a household aquarium. It haunts me to this day. These animals possess innate problem solving abilities. They dance swiftly over the seafloor with the speed and agility of a cheetah and like a cheetah they are a top predator. As I remember the octopus curled up in the corner of his filthy little tank, it pains me to think of the torture that sentient being had to endure. It is heartbreaking. Most species of octopus only live until maturity and die after two years or so, but can you imagine being in a tiny box for two years, trapped and dying there?
How obtuse can people be?
It becomes increasingly difficult to avoid being judgmental.

If people would only ask themselves what it would feel like. If people would look deeper into situations. If they could emotionally and physically put themselves in the animal’s place, maybe they would understand, but then again, not only is it hard to say, but I seriously doubt it. As highly evolved as the human race is, there are those who have no idea how intelligent and emotional animals are. As I keep saying, all animals are as intelligent and emotional as your dog or cat, as we are. You just have to interact with them. You just have to give them a chance.

 I believe the people that are capable of inflicting suffering on animals, in any and all venues, are psychopathic. Psychopaths justify everything they do. They view themselves as the victims and the heroes. There are four motivating forces that drive psychopaths: being in the spotlight and making lots of money, being able to inflict pain on another living thing and being in control of someone that cannot fight back. Those are the people that run SeaWorld, and all other marine parks and most egregiously, the “trainers.”

 For a few moments, for the love and loss and respect for Tilikum, I ask you to put yourself in Tilikum's place while you read this ode. Perhaps this will explain to you how his death made me feel.

Ode to Tilikum
The beautiful whales and dolphins who are kept so visually pristine.
Yet, are slowly going out of their minds. 

The ones that are captured are young and they are taken away from their families.
It is no different than a child being kidnapped. 

 Being born in captivity doesn't change a thing.
It is still depriving a wild animal of the life he or she should have lived.
They don’t understand that the life they should have lived.
But they are confused and instinctively know.
They know something is wrong.

And one day, they snap.

Putting a whale in a tank is taking the very essence of their life away from them. 

The whales live in close family pods.
They are meant to swim at great speeds, traveling over great distances. 

 Tikikum was two years old when he was captured in Icelandic waters.

He cried to his family and they cried to him.
The family followed the boat that took their brother and son away.
They followed until they were just too tired and too heartbroken to go on.

 Tilikum cried for them, but they were no longer there.
He would never see them again.
He would never swim the great ocean with them again.
He would never hunt with them again.
He would never breed with females that would offer themselves to him again.
He would never be a free wild animal again.
He would never be what he was meant to be again.

 Tilikum was in prison for 34 years. 

He was 36 when he died.

In the wild males can live to 70 years old.

Females can live to over 100. 
The males stay with their mothers for life.

Stop and think.

Can you picture what it would be like to be abducted by an alien species,
When you were a child?
 Then taken to another planet.
Made to do things totally unnatural to you. 

The abductors were smaller than you and weak. 
You could have squashed them.

But then what would you do? 
Where would you go?
How could you get there?
You were trapped.  

If you wanted to eat, you performed the humiliating tricks. 

You were young.
You wanted to survive.

You wanted to go back to where you came from. 
You wanted to go back to your family.
You wanted to go back to your home. 

Every night you were kept alone floating in a weightless container. 
You heard noises that hurt your ears and that you didn't understand. 
You cried, but no one heard you. 
The muscles in your body began to atrophy.

You were not meant to be stationary or weightless. 
Over time your lungs began to collapse and became infected so you could hardly breathe.

 The abductors stuck needles in you and your lungs felt better.

For awhile. 

​They took your reproductive fluids.

 When you heard the cries of the babies.
You knew they were yours.
You wanted to see them.
You wanted to raise them
You wanted to set them free.

But what could you do?
Where could you go?
How would you get there?
You were trapped.

After eight years, you lashed out and killed one of your abductors. 

Then they sent you to another prison.
A bigger prison.
A nicer prison.

You tried to survive. 

Another eight excruciating years dragged by.

One night an abductor came into your cubical.
It was alone.

You killed it.

You presented the dead abductor to the other abductors.
You tried to tell them.
But nothing changed. 

They punished you by putting you in solitary confinement.

Then they brought you back.
They still wanted you to perform.
But without the abductors.

They still came and extracted your reproductive fluids.

They still needed you.

Then one of the abductors was assigned to you. 
​This was the one they sent to make you happy.
This one was the answer to all of their problems with you.

Not your problems.
 Their problems.

 This one would make everything right.

It stroked you and pet you. 
And kissed you.
And whispered things in your ear that you did not understand. 

You wanted to get away from it.

But what could you do?
Where could you go? 
How would you get there?
You were trapped.

The abductor paraded you around and made you do tricks. 
And all the abductors watched and made irritating noises. 
Just having the abductor touch you made you angry. 

Made you sick.

You endured this for another nine years. 
One day your abductor was stroking you. 
And kissing you and whispering things in your ear.
Things that you did not understand.

And this made you so angry.
Made you so sick.
Then the abductor commanded you to do one more trick.

You did something else.
Something you had done before.
But this time you were so filled with 

 And hate.

More hate than you had ever felt before.

You didn't obey the command.
You smashed this abductor with all your strength.
You broke every bone in its body. 
You scalped it

​You killed it.

You ripped the appendage that it stroked you with
from its body.

You kept it.

They tried to take it from you.
But you would not let them have it.

Taking its life was not enough.
You wanted them to show them.
You wanted them to understand.
You wanted to illustrate to them.

 They took something from you.
Something that you could never get back.
Your life.

You knew what it meant.
You would be put in a smaller cubical weightless container where you couldn’t move. 

It was like being buried alive. 
The fear was unbearable.

But what could you do?
Where could you go?
How would you get there?
You were trapped.

They kept you there for a long time.

 Unable to move. 
Your lungs became worse. 

Then they let you back and you behaved.

But you knew you were dying. 
You performed as well as you could until you couldn't do it any longer. 

You were placed in solitary confinement. 

You were still useful to them.
The abductors continued to come and retrieve your reproductive fluids. 
They came and looked at you and checked your heart rate. 
They poked you with needles and shook their heads. 
But that is the only contact you had with anything or anybody. 

You closed your eyes. 

Finally, after 34 years.
Over three torturous decades.

You closed your eyes. 
Your heartbeat grew slower.
Your heartbeat grew weaker. 

Once, you wanted to survive. 
Once you wanted to go home.  
Once your feared death.
Now death has become your savior. 

You closed your eyes ......


Not yet, you thought.

One more look.
One more hope.
One more impossible chance.
You opened your eyes. 

Nothing had changed.

You saw only the confining walls that surrounded you.

But you knew.
There was never a chance.

You closed your eyes.

Your life flashed through your mind.
You thought of your mother.

You opened your eyes.
Hoping you would see her.
Hoping you could ask her.


But she wasn't there.

You closed your eyes...  

There was no more rage left in you to continue the fight.
You did go gentle.
Into that good night.

You closed your eyes...  

For the last time .....

Finally, there was something you could do.
Finally, there was someplace you could go.
Finally, there was a way you could get there.
Finally, the abductors brought your savior to you.

 Finally, you could feel your consciousness leave you.

Finally, you were no longer any use to them.

Finally, they killed you.
Finally, you were free.

Now, do you understand?