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For Immediate Release: 02/25/10

Innocent Killer?

Warnings ignored. Species not suitable for captivity

According to eyewitnesses, as spectators watched, an orca (the largest member of the dolphin family) named Tillikum at SeaWorld Orlando grabbed his trainer and pulled her under the water. In a statement issued by SeaWorld, the trainer, who had 14 years experience training captive orca and dolphins, “drowned.”

This is the third time that Tillikum, whose stage name at SeaWorld is Shamu, has caused a fatality after nearly three decades in captivity.

“Although we are sorry for the tragic loss suffered by the family of Dawn Brancheau, Born Free USA is not surprised that yet another ‘accident’ has occurred at a captive dolphin facility,” said Adam Roberts, Executive Vice President of Born Free USA. “These are wild animals, highly unpredictable, and people should not be swimming with, or having direct contact with, dolphins or any other wild animal. Born Free USA campaigns tirelessly to raise awareness of the dangers involving direct interaction with wild animals and we continue to call for an end of the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity.”

Despite the obvious risks of injury or worse, people are still being encouraged to swim with and interact with dolphins and other marine mammals. Swimming with dolphins in a captive environment has become a global business for tour operators that sell “once in a lifetime opportunities.” The physical risks involved are frequently ignored and what precautions are taken often focus on reducing the transmission of disease between the animals and the public.

“The Born Free Foundation strongly urges that people do not swim with marine mammals, such as dolphins,” said Daniel Turner from the Born Free Foundation. “Science has confirmed that in captivity dolphins and whales suffer from high mortality rates, low breeding success, and may endure physical and psychological disorders. There is no justification for the capture, trade, and display of these wild mammals.”

Tillikum was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983 when he was 2 years old. He was sent to Sealand in British Columbia in Canada where he was kept for 9 years. Then in 1992, following his implication in the death of his trainer (1991), he was transferred to SeaWorld Orlando in the USA. In 1999, he was again reputedly involved in the killing of a man who had gained unauthorized access to the facility.

More reasons why dolphin interactions should stop:

  • 2009 (Loro Parque, Tenerife) — Trainer died (drowned) from accident with killer whale. http://www.typicallyspanish.com/news/publish/article_24475.shtml
  • 2008 (Curacao, Mexico) — A dolphin fell on the heads of tourists during a swim-with experience.
  • 2007 (Loro Parque, Tenerife) — Orca hit a female trainer with its mighty fin by accident. She broke an arm in the process. It is said that the orca brought her up to the surface after the incident.
  • November 2006 (Seaworld San Diego) — Killer whale dragged a trainer underwater during a show at SeaWorld San Diego, breaking his foot. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15964896/
  • 2006 (SeaWorld Florida) — A boy was bitten by a dolphin during a ‘petting’ session.
  • 2004 SeaWorld San Antonio — A killer whale performance at SeaWorld came to an abrupt end when one of the giant marine mammals slammed his trainer underwater repeatedly (apparently nobody was injured).

Born Free USA is a leading national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the U.S. and globally.

Born Free USA’s primary areas of focus in the United States are exotic pets, animals in entertainment, international wildlife trade, and trapping/fur. Born Free USA uses powerful tools including legislation, public education, litigation, and grassroots networking in its programs to end animal cruelty and exploitation.

Born Free USA also provides “hands-on” care for animals at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, near San Antonio, Texas, where more than 500 primates, many of whom were rescued from abusive situations in laboratories, roadside zoos, and private possession, live in as natural an environment as possible with minimal human interference. For more information about Born Free USA please visit www.bornfreeusa.org.


Adam M. Roberts, Executive Vice President
Cell: 202-445-3572
Email: press@bornfreeusa.org

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