Orcas in Captivity can be Detrimental to Humans too

Keeping whales in aquariums often affects more than just the orcas themselves, though they are the primary victims. Many trainers who have worked with captive whales have been injured, some fatally, by killer whale attacks. We can't know for sure if the orcas who have harmed their trainers have done so due to the years of distress that they have endured or just due to the fact that they are wild animals, not "tamed" like the entertainment industry would have spectators believe.

Jean-Michel Cousteau's Statement on Captive Orcas

Common themes in killer whale attacks on trainers are:
  • biting
  • ramming
  • dragging trainers underwater until they become unconscious or drown

Attacks on Killer Whale Trainers (from mid 1980s to present):

  • 1987 – Trainer Jonathon Smith grabbed and dragged through pool by two orcas, suffers ruptured kidneys and lacerated liver. (SeaWorld CA)
  • 1987 – Unnamed whale lept onto trainer Joanne Webber during rehearsal, she suffers broken neck.(Sea World, CA)
  • 1987 – Trainer Mark McHugh bitten by whale during feeding. (Sea World, CA)
  • 1987 – Trainer Chris Barlow rammed by whale during show and requires hospitalization. (Sea World, CA)
  • 1987 – Trainer John Sillick crushed by Orky when riding another whale and suffers broken pelvis, ribs, and leg. (Sea World, CA)
  • 1989 – Trainer Henriette Huber bitten by Nootka during feeding and requires multiple stitches. (Sealand of the Pacific, Canada)
  • 1989 – Trainer Steve Huxter pulled into tank by Nootka by hand. (Sealand of the Pacific, Canada)
  • 1991 – Tilikum and 2 other whales drown trainer, Keltie Byrne (Sealand of the Pacific)
  • 1999 – Unknown man found drowned in Tilikum’s pool, drowning/hypothermia ( SeaWorld Orlando)
  • 2002 – Orkid pulls trainer into pool by her foot, she receives a broken arm (SeaWorld San Diego)
  • 2004 – Trainer Steve Aibel slammed repeatedly underwater by Kyuqet. (Sea World Texas)
  • 2005 – Trainer bumped repeatedly by whale in pool, suffers minor injuries ( Sea World Orlando)
  • 2006 – Trainer Brian Rokeach grabbed by the foot by Orkid and dragged under water, no serious injuries (Sea World San Diego)
  • 2006 – Trainer Ken Peters is dragged by the leg underwater and pinned by Kasatka; suffers broken foot (Sea World San Diego)
  • 2007 – Trainer butted off a low wall by Orkid, minor injuries ( SeaWorld San Diego)
  • Dec 2009 – Trainer Alexis Martinez hit in the chest by Keto and drowned. (Loro Parque, Canary Islands)
  • Feb 2010 – Trainer Dawn Brancheau killed by Tilikum, dragged under water by her arm until drowned (SeaWorld Orlando)
Reference: Image of Dawn Brancheau with Tilikum.Julie Fletcher/Orlando Sentinel/AP.

Tilikum & Dawn Brancheau: The Tragedy That Opened Many Eyes

The Dawn Brancheau incident was particularly sobering for many people—both opponents of keeping whales in captivity and those who up until then supported the practice—because it was so obviously a deliberate act on Tilikum’s part and because the incident took place in front of a huge audience so it got a lot of exposure. In other cases where killer whales have attacked trainers, it has been easy for witnesses to misinterpret the actions as “playfulness” or an accident, particularly when the audience can’t see what’s happening under the water; but the attack on Dawn Brancheau was an obvious aggression to all of the witnesses in attendance.

"It's not that humans and non-humans are identical... but the lack of understanding that led to the slave trade is the same lack of understanding many people have about animals today. When slaves were brought over from Africa, many people believed they were not humans, that they didn't have feelings. Many people believe that primates and other animals don't have feelings, too, but they do."