Should killer whales 'entertain'?

What the death of a trainer at Sea World's Shamu Stadium says about using wild animals as captive talent

Killer whales often get up close and personal with their human trainers. Should they?
(Image credit: Corbis)

A killer whale drowned an experienced trainer at SeaWorld Orlando's Shamu Stadium on Wednesday, grabbing her off a platform and pulling her underwater as horrified tourists watched. The trainer, Dawn Brancheau, 40, was one of a select few at the Florida theme park who were allowed to work with the whale, a 12,000-pound male named Tilikum who had already been involved in the deaths of two people. Was this tragedy part of the price for educating people about marine life — or does it prove that it's wrong to keep wild animals in captivity? (Watch an AP report about a worker's death at Seaworld Orlando)

It's wrong to use animals for entertainment: Sea World — and the tourists who go there — seem to think it's "perfectly acceptable" to yank these "beautiful creatures" out of their natural environment, says Catherine Robinson in Creative Loafing. It's not — confining killer whales in a "small tank, withholding food until they perform" is a recipe for disaster, and it's downright cruel. "I feel bad for the whale."

"Whale kills trainer at Sea World; I feel bad for the whale"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Seeing wild animals connects humans to other creatures: "Children learn important lessons by visiting zoos and seeing animals they would otherwise never have an opportunity to see," says Aisha Sultan in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Deadly accidents like the one at Shamu Stadium are a high price to pay — maybe too high. But the interactions between trainers and killer whales aren't just about entertainment — they're educational.

"Family vacation nightmare: Killer whale kills trainer at Sea World"

This whale's dangerous history raises questions: The trainer, Dawn Brancheau, surely knew the danger she faced every time she entered Shamu Stadium, says legal expert Jonathan Turley in his blog. And her contract surely reflected that she accepted the risk. But since this whale, Tilikum, was involved in two other deaths — including the drowning of a trainer at a Canadian park in 1991 — SeaWorld Orlando needs to investigate whether this whale should be kept away from people.

"Killer whale kills trainer at SeaWorld"

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us