Monday, March 14, 2016

SeaWorld Can Extend Tilikum's Legacy Beyond the Show Pool


NOTE: This blog was updated as Tilikum lived for almost a year after this publication date. The updated article is HERE

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To Whom It May Concern:  

Myself, and the other members of VOTO, Samantha Berg, John Jett, and Carol Ray, have been informed that Tilikum, a SeaWorld killer whale in Orlando, is near death. We are saddened by this announcement, although it is not unexpected.  

Tilikum has developed an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection of the lungs, with pneumonia being the leading reported cause of captive killer whale mortality. Efforts to treat Tilikum have failed due to decades of antibiotic and antifungal therapy, medications that three-of-us at VOTO have fed him, and medications he was on in 2010 when he killed Dawn Brancheau, as reported by APHIS, here


Tilikum IS the Blackfish Effect. He changed the world from a small tank at SeaWorld in Orlando. Photo: VOTO 

Tilikum has been getting fed antibiotics consistently for at least two decades, primarily because of his badly damaged teeth, including open bore holes that must be flushed with antiseptic solution 2-3 times daily. These bore holes can lead to fish particles, roe, and other debris getting into the jaw and eventually into his blood stream, causing chronic low grade infection(s), and able to seed various organs, including the lungs. The end result is that, now, Tilikum is filled with bacteria that are resistant to powerful and broad spectrum medications that SeaWorld is dosing him with. 

Tilikum is, at this time, likely suffering from pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in his lungs. When the surface area of his alveoli diminishes sufficiently, he will suffocate in a stretcher, at SeaWorld. In a last ditch effort to obtain air to oxygenate his tissues, he will likely thrash in the stretcher, and go through a period of "death throes," prior to finally passing. This is a particularly dangerous time for the animal care and training staff on hand. 

A crane is reportedly standing by, possibly to recover his body if he should pass. This information is unconfirmed, but it does correspond with SeaWorld's recent announcements seen in this video:



Many citizens, including some in the scientific community, are hopeful that SeaWorld will dedicate Tilikum's cadaver to science. This gesture would advance our understanding of the impact of captivity on marine mammals such as Tilikum. 

Histological samples of dorsal fin collagen would help us understand collagen fibrillogenesis in killer whales, and why dorsal fins collapse in captivity. Kidney tissue samples could help us understand the effects of chronic dehydration on orcas, like Tilikum, who require gelatin as a dietary supplement. Cardiac tissue could be examined for evidence of physical deconditioning. Eye tissue could be used to understand the effects of looking upward toward trainers, a behavior that is probably contributory to early cataract formation in show animals that must look for hand signals from trainers, on stage. Blood tissue can be used to test for elevated titers of viruses such as West Nile, St Louis encephalitis, and other mosquito transmitted "bugs" associated with zoos, but not seen in wild animals. Immunoglobulin levels could provide information on captive orca immunity. Detailed bone and joint examinations could be examined for evidence of various arthritides. DNA testing could help identify Tilikum's natal pod, and so on. 


Take the NFL as an example 

Samples of brain tissue were critical in understanding the newly described condition (seen in NFL players) known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopaty (CTE), and as depicted in the feature film "Concussion," with Will Smith. The NFL was initially resistant to outside scientists performing these studies, but is now helping to fund them. SeaWorld can mimic the NFL, and CEO Joel Manby can get credit for the change, something that might give him some job security.  

Killer whales in captivity are also known to slam their heads on solid objects such as gates and concrete walls, especially adult male killer whales, with Kanduke being a famous example. Tilikum's brain tissue, or perhaps a new MRI, as depicted in Blackfish, could push our understanding of the orca brain forward, a brain four times larger than our own. 
An MRI can be used to scan Tilikum's brain. This has been done once, previously, & was depicted  in Blackfish movie 


SeaWorld has an opportunity to extend Tilikum's legacy beyond the performance pool and to substantiate it's claims of performing relevant science. We are hopeful they will take up this idea for the benefit of science, the public, policy makers, whale lovers, and for future killer whales. 

Thank you, Tilikum, for your sacrifices. Your legacy will live on through us and the millions of people your story has touched.  

Jeffrey Ventre MD
Blackfish cast member
Former trainer at SeaWorld 

21 comments:

  1. Initial action to address this matter? .. FOR THE LOVE OF TILI, make his life count!

    Necropsy is the summation of life. http://tinyurl.com/gnyo247

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  2. SeaWorld - Please extend Tilli's legacy - Do the right thing

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    1. All the world wants is transparency and the truth. He is in the hearts of people world wide right now. There is absolutely no reason that this request be denied, in my opinion. I truly hope JV that your request be granted when the time comes. Have shared on FB and Twitter.

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  3. I have a question. I have heard by many including Dr. Rose, that Keiko passed peacefully with his handler's. How is that the case if what you describe here and Keiko had the same thing. Can you please let me know what is correct. Did Keiko actually die a very VIOLENT death, which would have been even worse since there was no sling?

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  4. I'm not familiar with the pathogen(s) that killed Keiko, other than it being reported he died of "pneumonia," which is a relatively vague description. That said, pneumonia types are not the same. For example, a superinfection from an antibiotic resistant bacteria is more likely to produce pulmonary edema (fluid on the lungs) vs a viral pneumonia.

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  5. if you want to hel
    p the orcas ., leave them in the sea , public opinion hopefully will overcome greed

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  6. Having V.O.T.O. insight is invaluable. One way the people of the world can better understand what these cetaceans actually go through in captivity. I pray daily that Tilikum's passing will be without pain & panic, but realistically that may not be the case. Tilikum is leaving behind a legacy like none other. Without VOTO & Gabriella's documentary, I don't think as many people would care. Thanks to their efforts, a LOT of people now care more than anyone could have hoped for; Tilikum's death will be hard & sad to accept, but it will not be in vain.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Vanessa. And also for spreading the good word.

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  7. No, that is all wrong. Tili made no sacrifice for human knowledge....Tili gave his life unwillingly to a bunch of greedy selfish people who uses him for amusement. This is all so wrong....he should never have been taken from his home, his pod, his life. Maybe, just maybe this will raise some awareness but highly doubtful. He should have been set free when he showed the first signs of depression and discomfort when the first incident of aggression transpired. For the love of LIFE not just Tili, set these beautiful animals free, back to where they belong.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! Someone with sense! I read this article in the say manner as you. I find it ludicrous, I hope others see through this garbage.

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    2. Absolutely... Seaworld is a VILE hellhole and karma should have festival on head of everyone ever involved.

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  8. Keiko also died a free whale in his own ocean environment in Iceland because they took the initiative to get him back to the wild before it was too late.

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  9. I'm just stating the truth, but thank you! We all stand united behind Tili, pouring our hearts into these posts. Please do right by him Sea World, at the very least let him have some dignity in his final moments. I believe Keiko was released into a Sea pen where he lived another 5 years. Why can't this also be done for Tili? He may very well be depressed due to the lack of stimulation (& I mean other than what is being done to collect semen samples)! Perhaps he will have a few more years in a pen. If not, then at least let him have his last breaths in the sea....where he belongs. Let him have at least that...he deserves to die with some dignity after all that he has unwillingly sacrificed to put food on your table, and give you the riches you have. Please don't let him die behind bars surrounded by cement...grant him that last gift. Maybe as a little thank you for all he gave to you. Maybe, just maybe some compassion remains in the hearts of these people. We love you Tili��

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  10. Near Washington DC or willing to travel there? We are having a Rally for Cetacean Lives. Register at our FB event page: facebook.com/events/1204781… pic.twitter.com/0wrynhwI7G #Blackfish #emptythetanks #tweet4taiji RT!

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  11. I agree with Dor M Tilikum should have never been taken away from his pod from the ocean so lets him have a minimum dgnity in his last days by setting him "free" in the ocean where he might live longer.and better far from his concrete jail . Seaworld you can't make anything any more from Tilikum let him go and find a pod or anyway spend his last moments in the ocean . I that to much asking after all you got from his slavery ?

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  12. I would have loved to, I'm in Toronto and getting time off isn't very likely. There is a wonderful Marineland not far from where I live....that's another NOT-so great place to go! I truly wish these places would close their doors once and for all and set these wonderful animals free. Has anyone heard any updates on how Tili is doing today?

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  13. Lord, it sounds like he's going to die a painful death, gasping for air! Now I have ANOTHER reason to hate SeaWorld!

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  14. If death is imminent, why does SeaWorld not humanely euthanize him? If there is no hope, why do they let him continue to suffer?? Have a heart Seaworld. Put the whales first and profits second. Live up to the sickeningly sweet commercials you are showing...walk the walk.

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  15. If death is imminent, why does SeaWorld not humanely euthanize him? If there is no hope, why do they let him continue to suffer?? Have a heart Seaworld. Put the whales first and profits second. Live up to the sickeningly sweet commercials you are showing...walk the walk.

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