Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tilikum gets a treat

The rays of our star never die out in the “Sunshine State” of Florida. The beams of light and heat were pouring forth in Orlando on Wednesday when 40 year old Dawn Brancheau was working the “Dining with Shamu” show. The event held daily at the theme park, owned by the same company as Budweiser beer, held a special visual morsel for onlookers. As tourists eating poolside chowed on their food, Tilikum, a captive killer whale at the park, dragged the veteran trainer under water, enclosing her in his jaws. The spectators in an underwater viewing area saw the whale swim by, flipping the bleeding trainer over and over in his mouth.

Witnesses described vastly different events: One said Brancheau was patting the whale when he grabbed her arm and dragged her into the water. Another said the big bull orca leaped up out of nowhere and began shaking her.

The whale "shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing [her] around," witness Victoria Biniak told Orlando's WKMG-TV. "It was violent."

Tilikum, whose name means "friend" in the Native American language Chinook, was only attempting to play according to the official line of Seaworld representative. A natural habit in a penitentiary of instincts where innate habits are trained for the enjoyment paying tourists.

Barbara Walters, infamous agent of the Spectacle, reinforced the line of the aquatic zoo in her proto-feminist show “The View.” “The whale was not trying to kill her. The whale thought that this was fun,” Walters said.

Our “Friend” the killer whale has been engaged in carnage in the past, twice causing the death of humans.

In 1991, a marine biology student and part-time trainer fell into his tank in Canada and was dragged under by Tilikum. The whale and two females blocked her from getting out of the pool and tossed her back and forth in the air between them like a toy.

In 1999, there was a case so bizarre it made headlines around the world: A man sneaked into Tilikum's pool at SeaWorld and his naked corpse was found the next day splayed on the whale's back.

The infamous question “What is to be Done,” has been looming over our orca. Animal rights activists say release him, while others implore him to be maintained at Seaworld. Jeff Ventre, a former trainer, perfectly explains the position, and interests of his former workplace when he states that its in Tilikum's best interest to stay in the “habitat” provided by Budweiser Lager.

"He's not releasable for a couple reasons. Number one, he spends as lot of time surface-resting - a wild orca swims pretty much its entire life.

"Number two, he doesn't have any viable teeth left. One of the (things you do when) putting orcas in a facility is that you have to separate them with gates, and what they tend to do is threat-displays at each other to establish dominance. It's a matriarchal society. Tilikum (a male) is a sub-dominant animal in that society. He has a little bit less room to maneuver because of his massive size. He might be the largest animal in captivity. ... So, consequently, his teeth have broken off. And that's why you'll see the trainers every morning and evening using a water pick to flush out the impacted fish that gathers in the remnants of the teeth ... so it doesn't lead to something like an infection."

SeaWorld is said to have Tilikum insured for as much as $5 million, and Ventre said, "He's worth millions, and he represents the future of the breeding program for SeaWorld. He has impregnated - he's produced 13 calves, I believe. I think ten are still alive. I haven't been in the game for a long time. That's a guess, but those are the numbers that I think are accurate."

While Seaworld temporarily suspended the orca show, their biggest draw seating more than 5,500, the head trainer explained that attendance within a certain demographic- teens and young adults, might actually increase because of the incident.

"It's not going to draw families necessarily or older people who would typically visit there, but there is an age group that gets excited about the risks and the potential for drama and it may attract some of those folks," he said.

It is in acquatic parks, and zoos, places of hypnotic fascination, that human beings come to see their own instincts caged and sterilized. Everything that is intrinsic to humankind, but smothered by capitalist society, reappears safely in the zoo. Aggression, sexuality, motion, desire, play, the very impulses to freedom are trapped and displayed for the alienated enjoyment and manipulation of men, women and children. Here is the harmless spectacle in which everything desired by human beings exists only to the degree that it is separated from the reality of human existence. The cages are merely the extensions of the cages that omnipresently infest the lives of all living beings. Here the animals are placed in the unnatural habitat of a society unnatural to itself.

All that has been natural and a source of pleasure, for animals, has been converted into a performative slavery of a zoological bastille.

Denise DeVore, 36, a photographer from Beacon, N.Y., visited the park with her 3-year-old daughter Wednesday and said she felt it was safe for the public. DeVore said she thinks SeaWorld plays an important role in educating people about marine life.

But will she return? She echoed several other parents who were torn, though not because of the attack.

"The question is should we have whales in captivity? These are wild animals," DeVore said, adding, "But my daughter loves those dolphins."

1 comment:

don said...

Hey Matt,

I'm putting together a literary supplement to the next issue of Letters. Do you have any stories or vignettes you might want to submit?

You can send stuff here: editor(at)