The imminent Animal Apocalypse: it’s all about developing trust with the beast

Senior SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau died last week after being pulled underwater by Tilikum, the Killer Whale, in Orlando, Florida.

Onlookers say they saw Tilikum suddenly drag Brancheau into the water by her pony-tail, and by the time Tilikum could be controlled it was far too late to save the 40-year-old woman.

Brancheau with Tilikum

As per usual, we saw a completely predictable response from the media. ‘What a tragedy’ begat ‘Will they kill Tilikum’, which begat ‘Dawn died doing what she loved’, which inevitably begat a ‘The show must go on’ response from SeaWorld officials. Of course the show must go on. As a matter of fact, the Killer Whale program has already re-commenced at SeaWorld. It has to. Each of these creatures is worth millions upon millions of dollars. Dawn Brancheau, it seems, is not.

This must be terribly sad for Brancheau’s family. But it can’t be completely unexpected, can it? Tilikum (whose name actually means ‘friend’ in Chinook) had been involved in the death of two human beings prior to Dawn Brancheau, in 1991 and 1999. Tilikum was not bred in captivity; he was captured when he was about 2 years old. It was us humans who then decided it was the circus life for he.

A few stats for you:

Tilikum is approximately 28 years old. He is 22 and a half feet long, and weighs something close to 5600 kilograms.

Wikipedia puts it best in their first sentence on Tilikum: he’s best known for two things – being involved in three deaths and for siring many whales. If he doesn’t want to make sweet, sweet Orca love to you, I’d leave him be.

As more than one person has pointed out, the animal in question is a Killer Whale. Not a Mildly Dangerous Whale, or a Grumpy In The Morning Whale. We may think we’ve broken creatures like Tilikum. We pound our chests, convinced of the almighty dominance of man as we make them leap for fishy treats and jump through hoops. But all it takes is one moment. One moment where the Killer Whale disregards what he’s been trained to do, and instead does what comes naturally. And you’re fucked.

Killer Whale hunts down Porpoise with a purpose

I don’t care how much you think the animal trusts you, or if it was your lifelong dream to train huge sea mammals, or Bengal Tigers, or African Hippo’s. We’re talking about a creature with few (if any) natural predators, whose DNA is imprinted with literally thousands of years of killer instinct.

We’re not friends. He ain’t your buddy.

Don’t believe me? Ask Timothy Treadwell.

I don't even like being this close to the poster, let alone a motherf'n bear...

A bear enthusiast, Treadwell was the focus of Werner Herzog’s chilling 2005 documentary ‘Grizzly Man‘. Treadwell honestly believed the bears in Katmai National Park in Alaska trusted him. His goal? To raise awareness of the problems faced by Grizzly Bears in North America. That is, it was his goal, until he and his girlfriends’ bear-mangled remains were found by their Air Taxi pilot on October 6th, 2003.

By all means mourn the death of Dawn Brancheau. But respect these animals enough to realize that if people actively put themselves directly in harm’s way, it may well be only a matter of time before the animal does what it was designed to do.

In the meantime, I leave the Killer Whale’s alone. And they promise to do likewise. Works for me.

BPM

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2 Responses to “The imminent Animal Apocalypse: it’s all about developing trust with the beast”

  1. Righteous Schimmelbusch Says:

    Tony Abbott also inhabits dark and deep waters.

    So if I apply your strategy of “it may well be only a matter of time before the animal does what it was designed to do” – am I in mortal danger right now?. Am I actively putting myself in harm’s way by being in the same country as the beast?

    The mindless pablum of political journalism, and the endless stories about self-promoting politicians who pretend they dislike the press had lulled me into a sleepy stupor.

    I now see the error of my ways, through the lens of a hugely massive bodybuilding fish with a Freedy Kruger mindset, and a taste for garish neoprene.

    RUN.

    NOW.

    It’s the Abbott, and it has my ponytail.

    (would Laurie Oakes ever have said that in 30 years of journalism. I think not.)

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