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The Case of the Orca That Killed Its Trainer 395

Posted by samzenpus
from the free-and-angry-willy dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "There's an interesting read at National Geographic by Kenneth Brower that probes the case of Tilikum, the homicidal killer whale, who killed his first trainer, 20-year-old Keltie Byrne in 1991. Then in July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old man who stayed after the park closed and evaded security to enter the orca tank was found dead and nude, draped over Tilikum's back with his genitals bitten off. Tilikum's most recent victim was Dawn Brancheau, the SeaWorld trainer he crushed, dismembered, and partially swallowed in 2010. 'Almost all students of orca believe that they are deranged by captivity, some more than others. Tilikum's record puts him at one end of a continuum. There have been dozens of attacks on trainers by an assortment of orcas in the marine parks around the world. [The movie] "Blackfish" shows video from several of these episodes at SeaWorld,' writes Brower. 'What is remarkable about Orcinus orca in marine parks is not these rare episodes. What is remarkable is their monumental forbearance.' For its part SeaWorld is attempting to cast the filmmakers as the true villains, characterizing them as anti-captivity zealots. The company says '"Blackfish" is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues.'"
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The Case of the Orca That Killed Its Trainer

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  • by turkeydance (1266624) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:23PM (#44473139)
    Willy eat me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:24PM (#44473145)

    I just want to point out that though these killings continue today, they were started while George Bush Sr. was in office.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:25PM (#44473157)

    First, I do believe it is entirely plausible that captivity is a negative thing for sea mammals.

    However, statements like "almost all students of orca believe" are not helping make their point. I assume they found all the "students of orca" (what does that even mean? Do you sit in a classroom with an orca at the board?) and polled them at a scientific level? Even if they did, what does "almost all" mean?'

    Let's have numbers here. Opinions of experts. Show your work. Until or unless you do, I'm going to dismiss that statement as really meaning "I believe this and some other people I know also do," which isn't close to a consensus.

    There is way too much crap like this in "journalism" these days, and I'm calling it out when I see it.

    • by reve_etrange (2377702) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:54PM (#44473383)

      Number of attacks on humans by Orcas not in captivity: 1 documented.

      Number of attacks on humans by Orcas in captivity: > 27 documented (3 fatal).

      Killer whale attacks on humans

      • by reve_etrange (2377702) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:54PM (#44473395)

        Missed a closing tag.

        Killer whale attacks on humans [wikipedia.org]

        • Missed a closing tag.

          Killer whale attacks on humans [wikipedia.org]

          "On April 1, 1989, Nootka IV of Sealand of the Pacific pulled her trainer, Henrietta Huber, into the whale tank after the 6-year-old female bit down while the trainer had her hand in the mouth of the orca in order to scratch its tongue. Huber needed several stitches in order to close her wounds"

          Not one of the "almost all" students of orca.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cheater512 (783349)

        Mind you if you divide the attacks by the number of people in close contact with Orcas in both situation, the wild Orcas would look like human eating machines.

        The number of people with the opportunity to come within 100 meters of a wild Orca would be extremely small, let alone within biting range.

        • by Trepidity (597)

          Some of the attacks in captivity look likely to have been provoked by the humans as well, which is something less likely to happen in the wild.

          I can't tell you for sure what happened here, but it sure doesn't sound like the orca initiated it:

          in July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old man who stayed after the park closed and evaded security to enter the orca tank was found dead and nude, draped over Tilikum's back with his genitals bitten off

          Why was he nude? Why specifically his genitals bitten off? My guess is that it

        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @10:37PM (#44473939) Homepage

          Not really. People kayak around them all of the time. If they were particularly aggressive, we would know about it. Sea Lions are more obnoxious. Not that I would go out and try and pet one, but I've been within 50 yards of them before. It does get the heart going - the could crunch the kayak or small boat and find the chewy nugget inside but they don't seem to care one way or the other.

        • by Xest (935314) on Monday August 05, 2013 @05:55AM (#44475401)

          "The number of people with the opportunity to come within 100 meters of a wild Orca would be extremely small, let alone within biting range."

          Rubbish. I swam with them in the fjords of Norway. I was one of many tens of thousands of tourists that do this every year.

          This is far more people than swim with them in captivity that only includes trainers and authorised personnel.

          You're jumping to a conclusion based on a theory you've simply made up but that is false. If anything your point acts counter to the conclusion you've come to - I'd wager given the size of the tourist industry that far more people encounter them in the wild with far less experience of the animals than the experienced people who get injured and killed by them in captivity. If the threat was equivalent in the wild to how it is in captivity then tourists wouldn't even be allowed to swim with them because it'd almost certainly be deemed too dangerous, but that's not the case.

      • by peragrin (659227) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @09:13PM (#44473521)

        you forgot

        Killer Whalenado. the dumb busty blond gets eaten first.

      • Is that the attempted attack on Herbert Ponting or do we have at least two now? There's also been a few accounts of them breaking ice in an attempt to get sled dogs.
      • Given that humans routinely swim in close proximity with captive Orcas multiple times a day, not to mention ride on their back and stick their head in Orcas mouth for a show, while any human contact with wild Orcas is extremely rare, I agree with your point that Orcas not in captivity are statistically far more dangerous.

        • by tompaulco (629533) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @10:15PM (#44473815) Homepage Journal
          any human contact with wild Orcas is extremely rare,
          Not to mention the chances of anybody making it back to complain of a wild Orca attach is pretty low.
        • by graphius (907855)

          ...y human contact with wild Orcas is extremely rare...

          There is an entire whale (orca) watching tourist sector here in the Pacific Nothwest to GUARANTEE you will spot some orcas. Granted you will not be swimming with them, but there are many companies with multiple trips daily. This doesn't include private boats or kayaks. Many people, including scientists, say the wild orcas have a real sense of curiosity, and will come up to the boats to see what is going on. If they really were that aggressive, it would be too easy for them to grab a snack or two.

        • by Immerman (2627577) on Monday August 05, 2013 @11:14AM (#44477373)

          >any human contact with wild Orcas is extremely rare

          Not at all, there are many places where tourists swim with Orcas just as they do with other dolphins. Someone a little way up pointed out that thousands of tourists in Norway do so every year. So on one side - trained professionals w/captive orcas - many attacks. Ignorant tourists with wild orcas - not so much.

      • Number of humans in close contact in an enclosed space with an Orca not in captivity: 0.

    • Do you sit in a classroom with an orca at the board?) and polled them at a scientific level? Even if they did, what does "almost all" mean?'

      There were bits of fishy stuff in two of the articles I read as well

      I remember reading of Daniel Dukes the person who was found dead apparently swimming with Tillikum but that's all I read, it was a very short piece.
      Got a lot more from their local paper but the way it was written kept me looking for the next literary er whatchamacallit's

      http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/ [orlandosentinel.com]
      marijuana-smoking drifter with a string of petty arrests. (drug addict)

      a worn-out Florida Department of Motor Vehicles identification ca

    • by runeghost (2509522) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @10:55PM (#44474023)
      Go read the first linked article. Then read the years worth of articles on the subject by the author, filled with the references you claim to want. This is exactly what good journalism is - that you can't understand that because you're unwilling or unable to do a modicum reading doesn't give your dismissal any validity.
  • "Killer whale" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:28PM (#44473177)

    The name says it all, really. Orca are carnivores, their natural prey includes seals - which are of comparable size and, for all I know, tastiness to a human.

    The way the species has been rebranded as a "dolphin" is one of the triumphs of marketing over reality. They're whales, and they're killers. Get in a tank with one at your own risk.

    • Re:"Killer whale" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:34PM (#44473233)

      Not to mention they are rather sadistic in their treatment of their prey in the wild.

    • Re:"Killer whale" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:50PM (#44473351) Journal

      Plus, 'Sea World' is pretty much a life term in Supermax, except with more gawkers, for something of the size (not well proportioned to live in a swimming pool) and intelligence (relatively high) of a killer whale.

      If you are a lifer anyway, and the guard is dumb enough to come into your cell, why not shiv him just on principle?

      • Re:"Killer whale" (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NIK282000 (737852) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:58PM (#44473423) Homepage Journal

        More so now that it knows that it's situation does not change when it attacks people. They aren't stupid animals and this one figured it out quick.

        • They aren't stupid animals and this one figured it out quick.

          1991, 1999, 2010. One attack every decade is "quick"?

          • by NIK282000 (737852)

            Can you think of any people who have killed once a decade, been in the news for it and not been punished? They probably stopped doing shows for a while but that's not really a negative change for the whale, just a change that it would notice.

      • Plus, 'Sea World' is pretty much a life term in Supermax, except with more gawkers, for something of the size (not well proportioned to live in a swimming pool) and intelligence (relatively high) of a killer whale.

        And the gawkers have less intelligence than their usual diet...

    • Orca are carnivores, their natural prey includes seals - which are of comparable size and, for all I know, tastiness to a human.

      No, seals definitely taste better.

    • Re:"Killer whale" (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @09:33PM (#44473619)

      The name says it all, really. Orca are carnivores, their natural prey includes seals - which are of comparable size and, for all I know, tastiness to a human.

      The way the species has been rebranded as a "dolphin" is one of the triumphs of marketing over reality. They're whales, and they're killers. Get in a tank with one at your own risk.

      Oh fuck you're so wrong. Shut up, quit spouting incorrect drivel, and grow a brain.

      They ARE dolphins, and not true whales [wikipedia.org]:

      The killer whale is one of 35 species in the oceanic dolphin family, which first appeared about 11 million years ago. The killer whale lineage probably branched off shortly thereafter. Although it has morphological similarities with the pygmy killer whale, the false killer whale and the pilot whales, a study of cytochrome b gene sequences by Richard LeDuc indicated that its closest extant relatives are the snubfin dolphins of the genus Orcaella.

      • Re:"Killer whale" (Score:5, Insightful)

        by leereyno (32197) on Monday August 05, 2013 @03:59AM (#44475057) Homepage Journal

        So they're Killer Dolphins then.

        You can call them Killer Butterflies if you want. The point is, they're PREDATORS. You can train them, but you can't tame them. Sooner or later, they're gonna decide you look better than the fishes you're tossing at them, and have themselves a little snack.

      • by argStyopa (232550)

        I think the previous poster's point was figurative, not literal; they were saying that it's been rebranded as "dolphin" (ala 'fun, playful sea creature that does tricks for humans') as opposed to the murderous-sounding 'killer whale'. For people - who are roughly the same size/shape of the orcas' main prey animals - to get into a tank with them is either insanity or a staggering level of naivete.

        So aside from your pedantry, their point was correct: that they are top-tier predators who probably haven't "hum

    • Re:"Killer whale" (Score:5, Informative)

      by PCM2 (4486) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @10:14PM (#44473809) Homepage

      The way the species has been rebranded as a "dolphin" is one of the triumphs of marketing over reality.

      "Rebranded"? Orcas belong to the family Delphinidae, the oceanic dolphins. They're commonly referred to as "whales" but that's not technically accurate. But hey, don't let science get in the way of your little speech about "marketing."

      • by Paul Jakma (2677)

        Orcas are delphinidae, which *are* a part of the cetacean order. So they are very much technically whales, and it is quite correct to call them that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:29PM (#44473189)

    You take a highly intelligent creature, put it in captivity and then get in its enclosure. What the heck do you think is going to happen? It's amazing more people are not killed and a testament to the tolerance of the orcas.

    • Or good, old-fashioned, learned helplessness! It's amazing what sorts of useful institutions that little quirk can keep operational!

    • You take a highly intelligent creature, put it in captivity and then get in its enclosure. What the heck do you think is going to happen?

      Hmmm...

      a 27-year-old man who stayed after the park closed and evaded security to enter the orca tank was found dead and nude, draped over Tilikum's back with his genitals bitten off.

      A gobble gone wrong? Worst blow-hole job ever?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:29PM (#44473195)

    We are locking up intelligent animals for our amusement. Animals much bigger and stronger than humans. Of course some of them are going to kill us. That's what we get.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do the editors continue to approve submissions by " Hugh Pickens DOT Com"? It's clearly spam/advertisement for some crappy movie, but I've seen it a few times in submitted stories. C'mon now.

  • Dangerous! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:35PM (#44473243)

    These Orca things are dangerous! to stop people voluntarily getting into the tanks with them I suggest a name that's also a warning. Maybe 'Killer aquatic mammal'.

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:38PM (#44473267)

    Yes...orcas are killers. Seen the wild they will use a baby seal like a volley ball. Torturing it for quite some time before it dies. They are 6-ton predators who rule the waters. Evolved natural killing machines. It is a risk to swim with them of course.

    But for the most part they don't kill humans. In fact some of the deaths have been result of the orcas playing too hard and not fully understanding that their human companions are land based creatures not capable of being underwater too long. Some, I guess I'll call them 'water show entertainment' deaths, were because the whales kept a trainer in their mouths for fun but ended up swimming beneath the surface for two or three minutes. Drowning their human trainer.

    But the safety records are fine. If the Animal Right's Groups are saying that the wild animals should not be kept captive because they are dangerous to humans it is a terrible argument. The overwhelming majority of captive animals don't kill or harm humans. If these groups were against animal captivity they need to argue about the exploitation of animals and effectively animal slavery for corporate profits. Instead they are wasting time exploiting deaths, many accidental, many not even of actual trainers but of idiots who jumped over the fence to play with killer whales, giant monkeys, and fully grown lions.

    This is the same alarmist response the news media does whenever a shark attack kills someone. "Oh my god it was 20 feet long...fin those sharks....for the children". Sharks kill a few people a year and there are millions of sharks and millions of humans who swim in the ocean. No need to sensationalize.

    Personally I don't think that most zoo animals enjoy captivity. But most zoo animals are smart enough to know that they are at the mercy of their human masters. The humans provide them clean living conditions, food, and water. They can get a whale to swim ten laps and fly out of the water for a fish treat. But sometimes a killer whale remembers that animal instinct and forgets his training. The trainers know the risks. It's not like these whales are flying out of the stands like a NASCAR crash gone wrong and killing people in the crowd.

    • by RoknrolZombie (2504888) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:52PM (#44473371)

      It's not like these whales are flying out of the stands like a NASCAR crash gone wrong and killing people in the crowd.

      Yet.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      What we need is to put lasers on the orcas so that they can clearly show their dangerous nature by frying people from afar when they feel like it. I'd wager people would be a bit less likely to swim with them then.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @09:31PM (#44473603)

      If these groups were against animal captivity they need to argue about the exploitation of animals and effectively animal slavery for corporate profits

      They talk about that all the time. Even if you disagree with them, how have you not heard of them talking about such things, almost to an excess of some anti-captivity spiels being a thinly veiled anti-corporate spiel? If anything, it happens so much it gets tuned out, and most people don't care. That is why some groups will try to go at it from different angles. If they know the caring about the animal angle doesn't work, they try things that have more direct impact on humans.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But the safety records are fine.

      They're acceptable, but they're not fine. One of the points made by a former trainer when talking about the movie is that being an orca trainer should be classified by OSHA as a dangerous job, which I gather would cost Sea World a bunch of money in extra pay, safety precautions and insurance. But because of lobbying by Sea World, it's still classified as being no more dangerous than office work.

    • by Kagato (116051) on Monday August 05, 2013 @12:50AM (#44474469)

      First off Orca's don't kill humans in the wild because they swim in cold waters that don't have humans. It's not like they are native to the coastal Florida beaches. The bit about animals being smart enough to know who the human masters are. That is factually untrue. In most zoos the protocols are all about keeping the zoo keepers out of harms way of the animals. Feeding the animals is one of the most dangerous parts of the job. Making a grab for a keepers during feeding time is quite common and equipment and protocol are designed to reduce the risks.

      Make no mistake, most real zoos wouldn't even fathom having an Orca show with close trainer interaction. There's a night and day difference between non-profit zoos and a multi billion dollar entertainment company.

      • Well... maybe not large zoos. But at the smaller end, there are plenty of zoolike entities that deal with big cats (leopards, jaguars, tigers, lions) that have official policies against "fraternizing with the animals", but quietly look the other way when a few select individuals get some quality time with the kitties. I'd say the fatality rates are probably pretty comparable... every few years, someone gets killed under circumstances that, in retrospect, make it clear that the individual wasn't quite in tun

    • The trainers know the risks.

      Do they? Because the last time I checked, SeaWorld was still claiming that Tilikum was not actually trying to kill Dawn Brancheau when it grabed her by the arm, crushed her, dismembered her, and then ate her arm. They also claim the other two deaths were not deliberate (or that they don't know) when a review of the facts definitely indicates that Tilikum killed these people. I can't imagine anyone in their right mind working with this animal if they were in full possession of the

  • by multiben (1916126) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:42PM (#44473293)
    I've always been fascinated by people who keep dangerous pets or work with them. They often seem to hold the belief that their relationship with these creatures transcends their instinctive nature to kill. And for a time it seems that they are right. But you only have to piss off a grizzly bear one time, and all of a sudden you're on the latest episode of "People Who Domesticated Animals Which Shouldn't Have Been Domesticated."
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @09:08PM (#44473489) Journal
      And even then, if your pet tiger really likes you, but takes a nip at you, or tries to wrestle with you like he does with his siblings (that he also likes), you're not strong enough to handle it and you die.
    • by Deadstick (535032)

      I've always been fascinated by people who keep dangerous pets or work with them. They often seem to hold the belief that their relationship with these creatures transcends their instinctive nature to kill.

      Back in the Seventies there was an article on these folks in the short-lived US edition of Geo Magazine. The writer interviewed some, and noticed a recurring thread: they stoutly maintained that Leo would never hurt them; they had a good-sized bandage somewhere on them; and the first thing out of their mouths was a lame description of a kitchen accident...

      • I've always been fascinated by people who keep dangerous pets or work with them. They often seem to hold the belief that their relationship with these creatures transcends their instinctive nature to kill.

        Back in the Seventies there was an article on these folks in the short-lived US edition of Geo Magazine. The writer interviewed some, and noticed a recurring thread: they stoutly maintained that Leo would never hurt them; they had a good-sized bandage somewhere on them; and the first thing out of their mouths was a lame description of a kitchen accident...

        Battered owner syndrome.

    • I've always been fascinated by people who keep dangerous pets or work with them. They often seem to hold the belief that their relationship with these creatures transcends their instinctive nature to kill. And for a time it seems that they are right. But you only have to piss off a grizzly bear one time, and all of a sudden you're on the latest episode of "People Who Domesticated Animals Which Shouldn't Have Been Domesticated."

      I should like to see that show - what time and channel is it on?

    • by evilviper (135110)

      I've always been fascinated by people who keep dangerous pets or work with them.

      Nearly ALL pets are dangerous. Birds, cats dogs, ALL can maim or kill you if they are sufficiently motivated.

      But you only have to piss off a grizzly bear one time

      The same is true of a medium to large dog. Bears are at least smart enough (like dogs) to know better. There are locations in Canada where people feed polar bears quite well, in exchange for them not eating their dogs, and they behave quite well. Watching polar bear

  • Genes matter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 04, 2013 @08:49PM (#44473341)
    I know an ex Sea World Orca trainer. She never had anything bad to say about the program. The killer Tilikum has been used for breeding more than any other male Orca though. I wouldn't think that was a good idea. Why not try to breed the aggression out of them?
  • "Almost all students of orca believe that they are deranged by captivity, some more than others."

    I really wish the author had gone into more detail on this point, it sounds interesting. The closest he got was a citation from a psychologist who said, we really should be careful applying psychological terms to animals that diverged from us 200 million years ago.

  • He killed his perceived capturer. If you capture and lock up an animal, you shouldn't expect anything else.

  • "Contrary to popular belief, the most dangerous animal is not the lion or tiger or even the elephant. The most dangerous animal is a shark riding on an elephant, just trampling and eating everything they see." -- Jack Handy clearly, he never saw an ORCA riding on an elephant.
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @10:12PM (#44473799)

    was found dead and nude, draped over Tilikum's back with his genitals bitten off

    He was just trying to demonstration his new high-fashion concept of a Eunuch Tunic.

  • by tompaulco (629533) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @10:24PM (#44473865) Homepage Journal
    Tilikum is a "Serial Killer Whale". Also, that's why they are called "Killer Whales" and not "Ocean Ponies."
  • by Beeftopia (1846720) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @11:01PM (#44474059)

    1) Killer whale teeth. [seaworld.org]
    2) Killer whale skull. [usgs.gov]

    The killer whale can weigh up to 22,000 lbs for males and 16,000 lbs for females, and be up to 32 feet and 28 feet long respectively. A great white shark can reach up to 5,000 lbs and 20 feet long.

    I saw a PBS video showing great whites feeding on seals at a beach. Suddenly the great whites fled and shortly thereafter, orcas showed up to begin feeding. The narrator noted that orcas can kill great whites. [telegraph.co.uk]

    The male killer whales at Seaworld weigh 5-6 tons. [seaworld.org] It's quite remarkable that these orcas have not killed more trainers.

  • by Camael (1048726) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @11:05PM (#44474079)

    From TFA:-

    In the week before advance screenings in Los Angeles and New York, SeaWorld sent out a "Dear Film Critic" letter that castigated the documentary as "shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate." Journalists and bloggers around the world, never averse to controversy, pricked up their ears. If the film's producers ever worried about insufficient funds for advertising, they can lay that fear to rest.

    I don't think free publicity was what SeaWorld had in mind. I have not even heard of this movie before this, now I have to admit I'm curious.

  • by jsepeta (412566) on Monday August 05, 2013 @12:39AM (#44474425) Homepage

    whomever he pleases

Today's scientific question is: What in the world is electricity? And where does it go after it leaves the toaster? -- Dave Barry, "What is Electricity?"

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