At a SeaWorld special event last February, Tilikum, a 12,000-pound killer whale, dragged trainer Dawn Brancheau into the water by her hair and shook her to death, horrifying a crowd that included children. Yet yesterday, Tilikum (who was also implicated in two deaths in the 1990s) was back performing as part of SeaWorld's "Believe" show. While critics charge that SeaWorld is putting its trainers at risk, the theme-park — which has barred employees from being in the water at the same time as the whales — maintains that performing will benefit Tilikum's health. Is sending Tilikum back to work the right thing?
Safety precautions aren't enough: "Why does it always take a tragic incident (and not just one) for people to realize these are wild animals?" says Kecia Stewart at FayObserver.com. SeaWorld says it's taking precautions before letting trainers back in the water, such as installing movable pool floors that can quickly lift employees out of danger. But "I just don’t see any of these working," given how quickly whales can kill human beings. Clearly, Tilikum's return engagement is all about profit, but "isn’t it time to look for another, safer, way to bring in money?"
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The whale wants to perform: "Participating in shows is just a portion of Tilikum's day, but we feel it is an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment," says SeaWorld Animal Training Curator Kelly Flaherty Clar, as quoted by the AP. Since the accident, "he has been regularly interacting with his trainers and the other whales for purposes of training, exercise and social and mental stimulation." He's ready to come back.
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SeaWorld has misled employees: "Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three people over the past 20 years," says former SeaWorld trainer Samantha Berg, as quoted by CBS' "The Early Show." But when I worked with him, "my understanding of the animal's past was very limited." That was a "serious mistake" on SeaWorld's part, and now, they're playing with fire again. Even if performing rehabilitates Tilikum, the possibility of disaster looms — "it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but somebody could make a mistake and there could be a fourth death."
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