God did not put these creatures on this earth for our entertainment, and we have no right to use them for such. Boycott all Sea Worlds and other facilities who use these animals for anything other than nursing back to health.
Orca Resistance at Sea World
The Struggle of Nootka and Tilikum
By JASON HRIBAL
Editors' Note: Counterpunches can be landed in a variety of ways. In November 2006, Kasatka, the Sea World Orca, attempted to drown her trainer. Yesterday, it was Tilikum's turn—killing his aquarium trainer. This fall, Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance, will be published by AK Press/CounterPunch Books. Below is a poignant excerpt from the book, which details the decades long struggle of two notable orcas: Nootka and Tilikum.
--AC / JSC
It was the first time that a trainer had ever been killed by a group of captive killer whales. There had been previous attempts, a great many actually. But the trainers involved, whether through rescue by other employees or a stroke of luck on their part, had always managed to survive. This attack, however, proved to be different and fatal. It occurred on February 21, 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific.
That day's final performance had just ended at the Victoria, British Columbia based aquarium and the audience was pleased. They got to watch three killer whales, Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum, perform tricks, including one trick wherein a young female trainer rode on the back of one of these great sea mammals. It seemed to be wonderful fun—that is, until that particular female trainer fell into the water. As she attempted to climb out, an orca latched on to her. "The whale got her foot," an audience member recalled to reporters, "and pulled her in." We do not know which orca it was that started it, but all three, Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum, took their turns dunking the screaming woman underwater. "She went up and down three times," another visitor continued. The Sealand employees "almost got her once with the hook pole, but they couldn't because the whales were moving so fast." One trainer tossed out a floatation ring, but the whales would not let her grab it. In fact, the closer that such devices got to the young woman, the further out the whales pulled her into the pool. It took park officials two hours to recover her drowned body.
Responding to the death, Sealand dismissed any claims that the whales had hurt the woman on purpose. "It was just a tragic accident," the park manager lamented. "I just can't explain it." A few of the trainers speculated that Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum might have been playing "a game" that simply went wrong, and their coworker was mistakenly killed in the process. There was, however, precedent for a different interpretation.
In 1989, there had been two violent incidences involving Nootka. The first occurred in April. A trainer was in the middle of a routine activity, scratching the orca's tongue, when that orca decided to turn the tables. Nootka "bit her hand and dragged her into the whale pool." The woman had to be rescued by a fellow employee. Sealand, for its part, chose not to notify the authorities or the press. It believed that, although the trainer received lacerations and needed stitches, Nootka did not really intend to bite the person, and the situation remained in control. The trainer thought differently. Citing "unsafe conditions," she quit her job.
Nootka struck again later that year. A tourist was taking pictures, when he accidentally dropped his camera in the water. The orca quickly noticed the object and put it into her mouth. When a trainer tried to retrieve the camera, Nootka used the opportunity to grab a hold of the man's leg and jerk him into the pool. The trainer had to be rescued. Sealand administrators chose, once again, to deny that there was intentionality behind Nootka's actions. No one needed to know about this incidence. Nevertheless, more trainers did resign their positions. Nootka, they believed, was purposeful and dangerous in her actions.
Elsewhere in Canada, other theme parks were having their own troubles. About a decade earlier, the Vancouver Aquarium had its hands full with Skana and Hyak. Both orcas were described by their trainer as "moody." Working with the former was particularly precarious, as the female whale could switch from an obedient disposition to a rebellious one "in minutes." "Skana once showed her dislike," a Vancouver employee explained, "by dragging a trainer around the pool." "Her teeth sank into his wetsuit but missed the leg."