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R. I. P. Tilikum

captivity circus entertainment freedom ocean orca seaworld tilikum ushaka marine world

Many of us remember going to some form of circus when we were younger. We would cheer when we saw the clowns throwing balls around, acrobats traipsing on tripwires and fire-breathers... well, breathing fire. We would often get even more excited when we saw the animals come on stage. Tigers jumping through hoops like they were born to it, lions sitting obediently like the majestically obedient kittens that they are, elephants lifting people up and bowing like they worshiped them, dolphins and orcas happily hopping in and out of aquatic circuses for the scrumptious treat their favourite humans handed to them. Ah, good memories.

Except, of course, for the teeny tiny fact that it's all bullsh*t.

Tigers wouldn't happily jump through hoops when asked nicely. Lions wouldn't sit by idly while potential prey is waving a stick in their faces. Elephants don't bow to any other creature in the world, let alone a tiny human. Dolphins and orcas don't naturally perform parlour tricks when they see humans, hoping for a treat. None of these animals, nor the countless others kept in cages or tiny enclosures for their entire lives, perform tricks for humans because they enjoy it. Seriously, can you picture a majestic f**king lion sitting still because a puny human says so? Nah, bro. It'll bite off the human's head and look bored doing it. Dolphins and orcas swim vast distances each day, yet are confined to a space that is, comparatively speaking, the size of a motherf**king bathtub.

This week, the world lost an icon of captivity: Tilikum, the bull orca kidnapped from his family as a baby and forced to perform tricks for his entire life. Tilikum died on 6 January 2017, at the young age of 36. He was made famous by the expose in the epic documentary Blackfish. Let's break his story down as simply as we can:

  • Tilikum was captured (read: kidnapped) from Icelandic waters in 1983, at the tender age of 2 - so he was a baby when he was taken from the wild;
  • He was taught to perform (read: tortured until he complied) for Sealand until Sealand shut down and shortly thereafter he was sold to Seaworld, where he continued to perform tricks for the amusement of humans at the parks;
  • He was repeatedly masturbated by other humans (read: raped) for the collection of his sperm, which was used to sire additional orca calves for SeaWorld;
  • He was kept in an enclosure so small that, for an animal that can swim for hundreds of kilometers a day, he could basically barely move (picture yourself stuck in a bathtub your whole life without the option to get out and move around);
  • He stayed in these prisons until he died at the prime of his life, never having experienced freedom again.
Tilikum is well-known for having killed 3 people during his time in captivity, causing them to drown. Two of his kills were witnessed and those witnesses confirmed that the kills were no accident. In Blackfish it was argued that orcas get aggressive when kept in captivity and, you know, they're pretty big, so if this isn't a sign that he was frustrated as f**k and wanted to vent, then we don't know what is.

    When announcing his death, SeaWorld officials told the world that Tilikum died of a serious bacterial lung infection that had persisted these last few months. It's kind of important to point out that there has not been a single recorded case of an orca dying of a lung infection in the wild. Not one. Hmmm, interesting.

    John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld orca trainer who was also featured in Blackfish, had this to say:

    Tilikum has been sick, very sick, for so long, and after everything he’s had to endure, this is to me like he’s free... [h]e lived a tortured existence in captivity. I think all the whales do, but if you had to pinpoint one of them, hands down I would say Tilikum.

    In the Washington Post, SeaWorld eulogised a "long and enriching life" that "inspired millions of people". Wait. Hang on. When the f**k has captivity, rape, torture, sh*tty food, sunburn and illness that was most likely caused by his captivity ever been synonymous with an enriching life? And when the f**k has dying at age 36 when orcas in the wild can live upwards of 100 years ever been synonymous with a long life?

    SeaWorld, we call bullsh*t.

    Oh!Poppyseed​™ believes in joyful living. Animals that are used for human entertainment are not living a joyful life​, no matter what crap entertainment companies like SeaWorld, and even our own South African uShaka Marine World, try to feed the public. We all want our freedom, don't we? Of course we do. Captive animals like Tilikum and all the rest that are used for our entertainment are no different than us in that regard.

    Orcas are highly intelligent and social animals, just like human beings. They enjoy each others' company, communicate with each other in what has been described as different languages, play with each other, care for and protect each other when necessary. They are arguably one of the smartest species, yet we steal their babies away and force them to perform tricks for us. And then we get surprised when they kill someone in frustration or they themselves die young.

    Rest in Peace, Tilikum. We hope your heaven has an enormous ocean for you to swim freely in.

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