TAMARA SIDDIQUI: End of orca show isn’t the end of cruelty

Orca whale Tilikum (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
Orca whale Tilikum (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

NEWS COMMENT: A respectful salute to the new guards at the palace

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He’s finally free. It’s just a great, great shame he had to wait 33 years for it.

You may have heard of Tilikum, the beautiful orca who before he died last week, had been held captive at SeaWorld since 1983.

Tilikum was the largest orca in captivity and was estimated to be about 36 years old.

The Orlando Florida theme park that is SeaWorld offers rollercoasters, rides, shows, tours, attractions and family-friendly activities for thrill seekers and animal lovers.

So what was Tilikum – a ride, an attraction?

Since the release of the documentary Blackfish the perils orcas face when held in captivity have become known to millions.

The killer whales are creatures who need lots of space. They need to be a part of complex social groups, to be able to hunt, and so, so much more.

SeaWorld came under fire as a result of so many people seeing the documentary and lost lots of fans and customers.

I could sit here all day and tell you how horrible this poor orca’s life was, how he was trapped in a small pool, how he became depressed and at times aggressive because of stress, and about his collapsed dorsal fin and broken down teeth – but that doesn’t matter now.

What does is this: the death of Tilikum, who featured in Blackfish, left SeaWorld with no choice but to announce that on the Sunday just gone, they would hold their last ever killer whale show.

This is great – really it is, but I would hate for people to think this is the end of cruelty and captivity for orcas, because it’s not.

The shows will end, but SeaWorld has already said they will be replaced by a new experience called Orca Encounter.

This new attraction aims to give visitors a more educational experience about orcas and their lives, how they interact with humans, and so on, but will still see the creatures jumping out of the water and responding to trainers.

The organisation wants to be able to demonstrate behaviour people would see in the wild with the killer whales, and their abilities as a top predator in the sea.

Except – we humans wouldn’t see that behaviour would we? Because in the wild orcas are where they belong, not surrounded by people or tanks.

As of today there are 55 orcas in captivity in different parks around the world. Tilikum’s fight is over, but we still have a long way to go. I hope SeaWorld’s end-of-show announcement doesn’t make anyone think otherwise.