Sunday, February 19, 2017

Class Action Lawsuit vs SeaWorld Promises Drama & Discovery

SeaWorld's captive orca Tilikum died 6 Jan 2017
from an antibiotic resistant super-infection. Listen HERE
Earlier this month U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that a class-action lawsuit filed against SeaWorld, for false advertising, can move forward; important as the company was feverishly trying to have the case thrown out so it could avoid legal discovery. Discovery is done in preparation for trial, expected late 2017, and is a nightmare for the captivity corporation; one that has a lot to hide

Discovery includes subpoenaing compelling witnesses like scientists, employees, veterinarians & former trainers; or asking for physical evidence, such as the orca medical records, here. Once inserted into the record, the data or transcripts (example from OSHA trial herebecome available to media, scientists, members of the public, and animal welfarists. 




How discovery works: 
Copied from "How Courts Work" - Link HERE 


The trial will feature SeaWorld's hired power lawyer Larry Iser vs attorneys from Covington & Burling. We've covered Mr. Iser once before: SeaWorld Lawyer Warned Author of ‘Beneath the Surface’


  Orca Kahana: Another victim who brutally died young at SeaWorld from skull fractures
"Remembering SeaWorld orca Kahana," who died of skull fractures" in captivity. Note that in nature there are no steel bars or concrete walls to cause skull fractures such as this one


Discovery  is feared by SeaWorld. Damning evidence brought forth from the 2011 trial, US Sec of Labor (OSHA) vs. SeaWorld, proved to cripple the company, ended trainer-orca waterwork interactions, resulted in a serious safety violation, and provided details from behind the captivity curtain. This included several near-deaths involving trainers working with captive Orcinus orca. We also learned that whales in captivity are regularly medicated, including with benzodiazepines like Valium, but more frequently with ones to control chronic infections or prevent stress-ulcers, like Tagamet. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, one type of lethal infection, Candidiasis, which recently killed a SeaWorld captive [emphasis mine], please click:  



This common mycotic disease in captive cetaceans occurs secondary to stress, unbalanced water disinfection with chlorines, or indiscriminate antibiotic therapy.


Of note, un-medicated wild killer whales do not die of antibiotic resistant super-infections, such as the ones that killed Tilikum and Unna, SeaWorld of Florida & SeaWorld of Texas whales, respectfully. Read about Unna's story, as published by the Daily Mail

The Charges 

The plaintiffs, park guests who were given demonstrably false information, allege that SeaWorld is & has been engaging in false advertising by portraying collapsed dorsal fins as normal and captive-lifespans as equal to wild killer whales. The case is Anderson et al. v. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, number 4:15-cv-02172, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.




Lastly, the plaintiffs point out that SeaWorld continues to (astonishingly) claim that it does not separate mother killer whales from their calves, something that has occurred over and over again, and a claim that has been refuted with basic knowledge of where those mothers-offspring now reside and at what ages they were separated.


From an animal justice perspective, this case seems like an easy win for the plaintiffs... but it's not. SeaWorld is very good at conflating issues like "survival" [projections] with "longevity," calling orca teeth-damage & associated flushings, "superior dental care," and also using time parameters that attempt to redefine what an orca calf actually is. The company prefers to view itself as "the authority" on killer whales despite not having a single scientist on its board of directors, here. SeaWorld prefers to label actual scientists as "radical activists," a method akin to the Trump administration marginalizing journalists. 


SeaWorld orcas neurotically grind their teeth on concrete walls and break them on steel bars, similar to horses "cribbing"

This will be SeaWorld's strategy in the coming months: 
Obfuscate, object to the release of pertinent animal records, marginalize experts, and overwhelm the judge & lawyers with industry-speak & cherry picked data. 
With SeaWorld hoping to muddy the waters on these three main issues (lifespan, collapsed fins, separating mothers from calves) it's important that we, the animal welfarist community, continue to shed light on the realities of captivity. Fortunately, with good information, expert testimony, & orca medical records, SeaWorld won't be able to wordsmith their way out of the obvious: 



Killer whales suffer at SeaWorld & live impoverished lives, in concrete tanks, eating unnatural food, like smelt. Neurotic teeth damage is the most striking visual evidence of suffering at SeaWorld, leading to over medication, dental pain, chronic infections, & morbidity

Gif file compiled by Jeffrey Ventre from #Superpod4, Salish Sea, WA, USA

Author: Jeffrey Ventre MD DC is a board certified medical doctor in the specialty of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). He treats patients with physical impairments from back pain & stroke, to spinal cord & brain injuries. Jeff is also a doctor of chiropractic & electromyographer. In 1996 Jeff joined Ken Balcomb & Dr. Astrid van Ginneken for Orca Survey, a 40+ year photo identification study of the the Southern Resident population of Killer Whales in the Pacific Northwest; a population once decimated by SeaWorld and where the original "Shamu" was taken. Along with his friends and former work colleagues at Voice of the Orcas, his sister Kimberly Ventre, & Jeff Friedman, he's helped organize 5 Superpod gatherings on San Juan Island, WA. Prior to becoming a doctor, Jeff worked at SeaWorld of Florida from Nov. 1987 until Dec. 1995. He worked with SeaWorld killer whales Katina, Tilikum, Kalina, Gudrun, Katerina, Kanduke, Kotar, Taku & favorite, Taima. JV appears in Blackfish movie and Death at SeaWorld book. He can be contacted @jeffrey_ventre






Afterward 


So there is great irony that SeaWorld named it's dolphin swim-with park "Discovery Cove." Because discovery, in the legal sense, is exactly what the company fears the most. SeaWorld knows that when the curtain is pulled back, the wrath of public opinion is harsh. A taste of that is chronicled here. And, this new trial is on the horizon.

Regarding discovery, on August 23rd of 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld Florida with a “willful” safety violation for “exposing its employees to struck-by and drowning hazards when interacting with killer whales.” Despite efforts to seal documents and sequester testimony from experts, SeaWorld's worst nightmare, discovery, proceeded via pre-trial depositions, and continued in front of a packed courtroom, in Sanford, FL, USA.

For two weeks oral & written testimonies were presented, along with forensic & other types of evidence. The transcript of the entire trial can be read or downloaded from here:

OSHA v SeaWorld Trial Transcript 

Judge Ken S Welsch's Ruling on the OSHA v SeaWorld case 

The trial, held at a courtroom in Sanford, FL, is arguably one of the biggest court spectacles of the 21st century, attended by reporters, movie directors, journalists, television crews, activists and dozens of SeaWorld administrators and employees, many of whom were asked to testify. Some coverage by Journalist Tim Zimmermann, Outside Magazine:

OSHA Goes After SeaWorld - Nov 14, 2011

OSHA Goes After SeaWorld, Part 2 - Nov 23, 2011

SeaWorld pulled all the stops to win. After losing in Sanford, FL, they hired Eugene Scalia, the son of then U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, once described as “an absolute bulldog” and Wall Street’s “secret weapon,” to argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. In a split decision, the company lost again, 2-1.





Friday, January 6, 2017

Tilikum is Dead but SeaWorld Can Extend His Legacy Through Science

Sadly, a week into 2017, we learn of the loss of Southern Resident Matriarch J2, Granny, and now Tilikum, the killer whale that changed the world. In our opinion, SeaWorld now has an opportunity, in death, and can extend Tilikum's Legacy beyond the show pool:
Collaborate with outside scientists, do an MRI of his brain, share tissue samples of dorsal fin collagen, examine his eyes, and in general, share necropsy results with the outside world.  





SeaWorld reported that Tilikum had been battling a serious and persistent lung infection, 
with pneumonia being the leading reported cause of captive killer whale mortality. Efforts to treat Tilikum have finally failed due to decades of antibiotic and antifungal therapy, medications that three-of-us at VOTO have fed him, and medications he was on for a very long time, including when he last killed in 2010. Watch below as former SeaWorld trainer and Blackfish cast member, Dean Gomersall, describes the "death throes" of former SeaWorld killer whale Kanduke, another large male that died under similar circumstances in 1990:  


Tilikum was fed antibiotics consistently for at least two decades, primarily because of his badly damaged teeth, including open bore holes that were flushed with antiseptic solution 2-3 times daily. See SeaWorld's video below. These bore holes lead to fish particles, roe, and other debris getting into the jaw and eventually into his blood stream, causing chronic low grade infection(s), able to seed various organs, including the lungs. 

In his final weeks he was likely suffering from pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in his lungs.When the surface area of his alveoli diminished sufficiently, he likely suffocated and went into death throes, as described above, in the video. 

When Tilikum was near death in 2016, SeaWorld produced this video, below, filled with misinformation, regarding his health & the "similar diseases" found in wild whales. Sorry SeaWorld, wild orca don't have antibiotic resistant "super infections" 


Compare Tilikum's dorsal fin to this personal video from the mid 1990's. 


Many citizens, including some in the scientific community, are hopeful that SeaWorld will dedicate Tilikum's cadaver to science. This gesture would advance our understanding of the impact of captivity on marine mammals such as Tilikum. 

Histological samples of dorsal fin collagen would help us understand collagen fibrillogenesis in killer whales, and why dorsal fins collapse in captivity. Kidney tissue samples could help us understand the effects of chronic dehydration on orcas, like Tilikum, who require gelatin as a dietary supplement. Cardiac tissue could be examined for evidence of physical deconditioning. Eye tissue could be used to understand the effects of looking upward toward trainers, a behavior that is probably contributory to early cataract formation in show animals that must look up for hand signals from trainers. Blood tissue can be used to test for elevated titers of viruses such as West Nile, St Louis encephalitis, and other mosquito transmitted "bugs" associated with zoos, but not seen in wild animals. Immunoglobulin levels could provide information on captive orca immunity. Detailed bone and joint examinations could be examined for evidence of various arthritides. DNA testing could help identify Tilikum's natal pod, and so on. 

The four of us @Voice_OT_Orcas talk about Tilikum & captivity in this brief #Blackfish clip: 




From the movie "Concussion," Take the NFL as an example 

Samples of brain tissue were critical in understanding the newly described condition (seen in NFL players) known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopaty (CTE), and as depicted in the film "Concussion," with Will Smith. The NFL was initially resistant to outside scientists performing these studies, but is now helping to fund them. SeaWorld can mimic the NFL, and CEO Joel Manby can get credit for the change.

Killer whales in captivity are also known to slam their heads on solid objects such as gates and concrete walls, especially adult male killer whales, with Kanduke being a famous example. Learn about Kanduke in the first video of this article. 

Tilikum's brain tissue, via MRI as depicted in Blackfish, could push our understanding of the orca brain forward, a brain four times larger than our own. 

An MRI can be used to scan Tilikum's brain. This has been done once, previously, & was depicted  in Blackfish movie 


SeaWorld has an opportunity to extend Tilikum's legacy beyond the performance pool and to substantiate it's claims of performing relevant science. We are hopeful they will take up this idea for the benefit of science, the public, policy makers, whale lovers, and for future killer whales. 

Thank you, Tilikum, for your sacrifices. Your legacy will live on through us and the millions of people your story has touched.  


Jeffrey Ventre MD

Blackfish cast member 
Former trainer at SeaWorld 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Morgan Monitor Who filmed The Escape Behavior Provides More First Hand Details about the Orca

This week, controversial video footage gathered by the anonymous "Morgan Monitors" was posted by the DolphinProject and picked up by major news media. The "Monitors" are seeking justice for the young killer whale who was captured & betrayed by the Dutch Dolfinarium Harderwijk and shipped to Loro Parque, in the Canary Islands, Spain, with the help of SeaWorld, from the United States. If that sounds like whale laundering, read THIS


To LINK to & DOWNLOAD this WHITE PAPER, click HERE 

The footage shows Morgan distressed and beaching herself on the stage area at "Orca Ocean," the circus style arena at the theme park. 


The story made global headlines with articles appearing at media sights including PEOPLE, TIME, Mashable, Russian TV, FOX News, the Telegraph, and more. Some headlines were overtly sensational & the responses from Loro Parque and SeaWorld claiming that Morgan was exhibiting "normal behavior" were patently false. 


One video, posted at Sky News, caught the attention of the anonymous "Morgan Monitor" who actually filmed the distressed orca. The video is linked here:


Within hours & via Twitter, the anonymous Morgan Monitor reached out to the former SeaWorld trainer who provided the analysis seen in the video. With permission, this information is being shared, below: 



to:jmventre
date:Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 1:06 PM
subject:Regarding Morgan Video


Hi...  I took the footage of Morgan. 
What you said in the interview on Sky news was spot on... 
I wish there was some way I could get it out to the media that this was not a suicide attempt,
but without my identity being exposed... So here is my unpublished blog, which may give you a better idea of what led to her jumping out. 

A visit to Loro Parque 16th May 2016: 
Morgan the female orca has captured the hearts of many around the world. She was spotted swimming alone in waters of the Netherlands. She was extremely underweight but swimming freely. She was captured by a local theme park (Dolfinarium Harderwijk), under a Dutch Government issued ‘rescue, rehabilitation and release’ permit. The theme park failed to fulfill the rehabilitation and release part of the permit.
She was trained and kept in a life of captivity. Morgan now spends her life in Loro Parque on the island of Tenerife. Here she is constantly attacked, and the male [Keto] tries to mate with her.  The Free Morgan Foundation was formed to get Morgan back to her family in Norway. Morgan has suffered a significant injustice most of her life. This visit was to follow up on Morgan after the release of footage of her violently banging her head against the gate of the med pool a few weeks earlier. The last show Morgan made her first appearance of the day. The show arena was not as full as it had been earlier that day. Video footage was taken of the show; the first part of the footage shows a splash and 3 orcas going under the water, It seemed like some kind of scramble or attack by two orcas on the other one (Morgan). 
The following moment Morgan jumped and beached herself onto the concrete. Her breathing was rather shallow; her vocals seemed stressed and sounded as though she was in pain, even more so each time she lifted her head. 
The first part of the video...  shot of her beached lasted over 2 minutes, and the trainers did not attend to her. Most of the audience seemed to think that this was the ending of the show; many took selfies with Morgan suffering in the background. I then decided to video again as Morgan was still in the same position still showing signs of shallow breathing and severe discomfort. Now people were leaving, I moved around taking footage until I had Morgan facing the camera lens. A female trainer stood a few feet away from Morgan just watching the crowd leave. The other 2 orcas were still swimming around in the tank and often just spy hopping at Morgan. A trainer stood by the bridge was asked if Morgan is ok, His reply " Yes she’s fine just like’s to be out of the water” The audience was still leaving and we were eventually all asked to leave. At this point I stopped filming and I glanced back:  Morgan was still in the same position as where the trainers. This had now been over 10 minutes. So all I could do now was make my way to the exit. As I left for the exit, heart pounding, feeling choked up and holding back the tears. 
I had just witnessed the true face of captivity. As much as they are controlled and trained. The only place for these majestic creatures is the ocean with their true family...
Anonymous, Morgan Monitor  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Superpod Five Killer Whale Conference is "The Future"

Updated 6-27-16 with scheduling information at bottom. 


In its fifth incarnation since 2011, Superpod Five kicks off 18 July 2016 in Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island. This year's theme, The Future, will feature presentations and activities that blend the work of our youth leaders with whale watching, updates on research, dams, salmon, & more. 
Click HERE to go to this Friday Harbor website  
A lot has happened with the local killer whale population since #Superpod4, and notably, SeaWorld has announced an end to captive orca breeding. These current events will be popular topics in Friday Harbor and at the San Juan Island Community Theater, our primary terrestrial venue.

Photo series v J. Ventre #Superpod4 


#Superpod5 is the fifth in a series of gatherings, hosted by Voice of the Orcas, open to the public and attended by an international group of scientists, filmmakers, authors, journalists, former trainers, naturalists, & orca advocates. 

Ella van Cleave, Michelle Duncan, , and journalist Melissa Cronin at #Superpod3 on the deck of Headquarters

The official itinerary includes events beginning Monday 18 July through Friday 22 July, but many visitors arrive before the event begins, or depart several days after the event closes. Once arriving in the "San Juans," most folks don't want to leave, and all can understand why orcas prefer the surrounding waters to concrete tanks. The Haro Strait, separating the West side of San Juan Island, from Canada, can be seen in the short video below: 


In general, the ideas & connections made at superpod gatherings have been significant in helping to bring concepts like captivity, dam breaching, & salmon restoration to the public through presentations, documentary films, direct action, social media, and journalists who attend and report on it. Four film crews have attended past gatherings, including for Blackfish, and we're told a fifth crew, another documentary team, will be attending in 2016. 

Below, hear Katie Emmons, one of the event organizers, speaking at the Kodak Theater, Rochester, New York, with Phil Demers in the foreground: 


_________________________

The Business:

If you have questions about #Superpod5, the event planning committee for 2016 consists of:



Kimberly Ventre @KimberlyVentre
Dr. Lori Marino @Whale_Sanctuary
Carol Ray @carolray_wa
Dr. Jeffrey Ventre @jeffrey_ventre
Katie Emmons @BlueFreedomOrg
Captain Jeff Friedman @orcawild


Kim has secured the community theater, is handling the #Blackfish whale-watch ticket sales on June 1st, and is the lead organizer of Superpod5. The Blackfish trip will be on the "Western Prince II." 



[ SOLD OUT - quickly. Note that there are plenty of other whale watch opportunities & we can direct you to them. 

GO HERE: http://sanjuanislandwhalewatch.com/ or you can also email: jeff@sjiwhalewatch.com


Dr. Marino is speaking at the event and organizing a scholar-advocacy conference on the island. Please read the notice below and contact Dr. Marino if you would like to participate. 



Captain Jeff Friedman & Spencer Domico will be operating three whale watching vessels, The Peregrine, Imagine, and the new "J-1,"  during the event. For questions about getting on a WW boat, please contact Jeff. 

Jeffrey Ventre is organizing the speaking line up, utilizing this blog, Twitter, and direct communications to get people information, such as: 

1. Information about how to get to the island can be found HERE
2. Information about last year's event can be found HERE
3. The history of the event can be found HERE
4. The website for the event (built by Jeff Friedman) is HERE 

Note that you can register for Superpod events at the site. The information is used to estimate how many will be attending & planning venue size.  Also, this event is free & open to all, but there are costs, including rental fees for the community theater, over $2000. In an effort to keep the event free to attendees, there is an option to donate on the http://www.orcasuperpod.com/ website

Carol Ray has secured Superpod5 headquarters, is a potential speaker and is an organizer of the event. Reach out to her for general questions. Carol is one of the cast members of the new documentary, Voiceless. See her in the new official trailer, below: 



Katie Emmons is one of our youth leaders and director of the new documentary, Voiceless, which will be premiering at #Superpod5. You can see Katie interviewing Dr. John Jett for her film HERE 

In this second video, Katie explains what Voiceless is: 



We're excited for #Superpod5 as it will attract folks from distant places who all share a love of killer whales, nature, and conservation, in general. Please use hashtag #Superpod5 as we approach this event. Based on early numbers, it will likely be the most attended superpod yet. We are expecting 300 to 400 attendees. Please return to this space for updates on tickets and the schedule, below: 


________________________________


SCHEDULE -- Partial  

#Superpod5 Schedule (So far)

Monday July 18
2-4 pm: Meet & Greet at Friday’s Crabhouse
This is a casual get together to greet old friends and make some new ones. Everyone tends to gather on the top deck for a drink or bite to eat.

6:30pm Welcome to Superpod 5 “The Future” San Juan Community Theatre
History of Superpod and the Blackfish Effect
Ex-SeaWorld Trainer/Blackfish Cast Member Dr. Jeffrey Ventre

7:00pm Screening of documentary film Voiceless
Q&A with Voiceless Director and Blue Freedom Founder Katie Emmons



Tuesday July 19  San Juan Community Theatre 9 – 4pm
Scholar Advocacy Day
Presentation times to follow including:
9:00am – Young Adult Novel The Blackfish Prophecy
Rachel Clark, Science & Environment Author

How I Followed My Dreams to Superpod Using Social Media
Mariah Kirby, Biology Student, University of Missouri-St. Louis

To the Sea a film about (re)connection
Ella Van Cleeve, aspiring documentary film maker/advocate

Cetacean Awareness: Using Social Media to Create a Vibrant Community
Michelle Strom, Student/Founder Cetacean Awareness

Every Drop
Roya Paller, Social Worker, Founder/President Generation Change

Scholar Advocacy Roundtable including Dr. Naomi Rose, Dr. Lori Marino, Dr. Jeffrey Ventre

The Whale Sanctuary Project – the Future for Captive Cetaceans
Dr. Lori Marino, neuroscientist
Founder and Executive Director the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy

“I Am Not an Animal!”
Michael Mountain, founding member of The Whale Sanctuary Project Former President of Best Friends Animal Society
Founder EarthinTransition.org

Conservation Canines
Dr. Sam Wasser, Director, Center for Conservation Biology
University of Washington


Wednesday July 20
Whale Watch Wednesday
Spend the morning exploring beautiful San Juan Island. Many Superpod participants are whale watching from shore, kayaks or boats–but the island also has wonderful hiking, biking, shopping and beachcombing. Don’t forget to check out the Whale Museum.

Afternoon – San Juan Community Theater 1:30-4pm

#EmptyTheTanks presentation
Rachel Carbary

Closing the Wild Capture Loophole: Working to Ban the Importation of Wild Cetaceans into Canada
Katherine Sussman, Ph.D

Alphabet Soup: Legislation, Regulation, and Agencies, oh my!
Dr. Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Protection Advocate and Orca Biologist

Dolphin Project
Lincoln O’Barry

Whale Museum 6:30pm
David Neiwert Of Orcas and Men Presentation and book signing


Thursday July 21 – San Juan Community Theater 9am-5pm

Presentation times to follow including:
The Ecosystem Approach: The Future of Endangered Species Recovery
Colleen Weiler, WDC, Rekos Fellow for Orca Conservation

Dolphin and Whale Brains – More Evidence for Complexity
Dr. Lori Marino, neuroscientist/Founder and Executive Director the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy

Navy Sonar & Marine Mammals: Potential Measures to Mitigate Harmful Effects
Meegan Corcoran, ex-Navy Biologist, University of Washington 

Center for Whale Research 40 years and Counting Shifting Baselines in the Salish Sea
Ken Balcomb, Founder/Executive Director, Center for Whale Research
Dr. Deborah Giles, Research Director, Center for Whale Research

A Captive Orca and Her Natural History

Howard Garrett, Co-Founder Orca Network

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Our Statement Regarding SeaWorld’s announcement to End Captive Orca Breeding

SeaWorld’s announcement to end captive orca breeding is a step in the right direction, for orcas, and we support efforts to phase out all marine mammals from captivity. 



SeaWorld’s partnership with the Humane Society is significant [two former foes pledging to work together] and we hope the company will become a leader in ocean conservation, help to restore salmon runs, and assist the animal justice community in obtaining nonhuman rights for cetaceans. We understand it took courage for CEO Joel Manby to make these changes; Kudos to his leadership. 

It must be pointed out that SeaWorld’s shift is a financial decision and the public itself has made this happen over a several year time span. THANK YOU for not buying a ticket. There are some inaccuracies in the announcement, such as the characterization of Keiko's release effort and no mention of other species still incarcerated at the park. 

We’d like to send love to Tilikum, who continues to languish alone in Orlando, and wish we could comfort him in his final hours. In the end, his message was heard. Thank you, Tilly

Voice of the Orcas: 


John Jett Ph.D. 

Carol Ray M.A. 
Jeffrey Ventre M.D. 
Samantha Berg M.Ac. 







Monday, March 14, 2016

SeaWorld Can Extend Tilikum's Legacy Beyond the Show Pool

For the benefit of science, allow for open & collaborative histological examination of Tilikum's cadaver

To Whom It May Concern:  

Myself, and the other members of VOTO, Samantha Berg, John Jett, and Carol Ray, have been informed that Tilikum, a SeaWorld killer whale in Orlando, is near death. We are saddened by this announcement, although it is not unexpected.  

Tilikum has developed an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection of the lungs, with pneumonia being the leading reported cause of captive killer whale mortality. Efforts to treat Tilikum have failed due to decades of antibiotic and antifungal therapy, medications that three-of-us at VOTO have fed him, and medications he was on in 2010 when he killed Dawn Brancheau, as reported by APHIS, here


Tilikum IS the Blackfish Effect. He changed the world from a small tank at SeaWorld in Orlando. Photo: VOTO 

Tilikum has been getting fed antibiotics consistently for at least two decades, primarily because of his badly damaged teeth, including open bore holes that must be flushed with antiseptic solution 2-3 times daily. These bore holes can lead to fish particles, roe, and other debris getting into the jaw and eventually into his blood stream, causing chronic low grade infection(s), and able to seed various organs, including the lungs. The end result is that, now, Tilikum is filled with bacteria that are resistant to powerful and broad spectrum medications that SeaWorld is dosing him with. 

Tilikum is, at this time, likely suffering from pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in his lungs. When the surface area of his alveoli diminishes sufficiently, he will suffocate in a stretcher, at SeaWorld. In a last ditch effort to obtain air to oxygenate his tissues, he will likely thrash in the stretcher, and go through a period of "death throes," prior to finally passing. This is a particularly dangerous time for the animal care and training staff on hand. 

A crane is reportedly standing by, possibly to recover his body if he should pass. This information is unconfirmed, but it does correspond with SeaWorld's recent announcements seen in this video:



Many citizens, including some in the scientific community, are hopeful that SeaWorld will dedicate Tilikum's cadaver to science. This gesture would advance our understanding of the impact of captivity on marine mammals such as Tilikum. 

Histological samples of dorsal fin collagen would help us understand collagen fibrillogenesis in killer whales, and why dorsal fins collapse in captivity. Kidney tissue samples could help us understand the effects of chronic dehydration on orcas, like Tilikum, who require gelatin as a dietary supplement. Cardiac tissue could be examined for evidence of physical deconditioning. Eye tissue could be used to understand the effects of looking upward toward trainers, a behavior that is probably contributory to early cataract formation in show animals that must look for hand signals from trainers, on stage. Blood tissue can be used to test for elevated titers of viruses such as West Nile, St Louis encephalitis, and other mosquito transmitted "bugs" associated with zoos, but not seen in wild animals. Immunoglobulin levels could provide information on captive orca immunity. Detailed bone and joint examinations could be examined for evidence of various arthritides. DNA testing could help identify Tilikum's natal pod, and so on. 


Take the NFL as an example 

Samples of brain tissue were critical in understanding the newly described condition (seen in NFL players) known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopaty (CTE), and as depicted in the feature film "Concussion," with Will Smith. The NFL was initially resistant to outside scientists performing these studies, but is now helping to fund them. SeaWorld can mimic the NFL, and CEO Joel Manby can get credit for the change, something that might give him some job security.  

Killer whales in captivity are also known to slam their heads on solid objects such as gates and concrete walls, especially adult male killer whales, with Kanduke being a famous example. Tilikum's brain tissue, or perhaps a new MRI, as depicted in Blackfish, could push our understanding of the orca brain forward, a brain four times larger than our own. 
An MRI can be used to scan Tilikum's brain. This has been done once, previously, & was depicted  in Blackfish movie 


SeaWorld has an opportunity to extend Tilikum's legacy beyond the performance pool and to substantiate it's claims of performing relevant science. We are hopeful they will take up this idea for the benefit of science, the public, policy makers, whale lovers, and for future killer whales. 

Thank you, Tilikum, for your sacrifices. Your legacy will live on through us and the millions of people your story has touched.  

Jeffrey Ventre MD
Blackfish cast member
Former trainer at SeaWorld