The Tragic Life Of Tilikum The Orca Whale

This is a story of one of our ancestors who needs our help. Tilikum is a 12,000 pound male Orca living in abuse and captivity at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Why do I referee to Tilikum as our relative? It is my desire to explain the original connection humans had to the sea creators, based on the way the first people of this planet understood it.  It is with humility and gratitude I repeat the stories of the first people, the Chumsha Band of California in particular.  My ancestors are of the Great Smokey Mountains, what became known as the “Lost Cherokee.” 

Whales and dolphins are mammals, they must breath air. They are warm blooded, have wombs, and give birth to live young. Whales, and dolphins, in addition to giving birth to live young, feed their babies, or calves with milk.

Whales and dolphins have been observed with other females assisting the mother and young during delivery. They stay together as a family and are very often matriarchal. Because they have sophisticated nervous systems like humans, they have many the same emotions as humans regarding the care of their young. Whales travel in families called pods and become fearful when separated from their family, crying out for their young and giving clear instructions to their babies to stay very close to their mothers.  Their pods consist of the very old, the very young, cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents for generations. They live in the wild up to100 years old.

Whales migrated from the colder waters of the North to the warmer waters of the southern coasts of Africa, and the western coast of New Zealand, for mating and calving. Every year at the same time they migrate thousands of miles to colder food-rich waters near Antarctica for the summer but to where exactly is not known. Most appear to stay in the mid-Southern Ocean.

Whales have been following this migration for thousands of years. Swimming, breeding, calving and giving humanity a breathtaking view of them occasionally as they soar up from the deep ocean waters breaching into the air.  In there migration pattern they feast on certain types of fish, only about twice a year.   A whales diet consist mostly of other mammals, sometimes dolphins, seals, and even birds, it is the way of life for the ocean creatures. 

What was the connection to the sacredness of all life for the first people?

First people originally came from various far away star systems.  Ancient stories tell of travels from the star system, for example, Pleiades and Sirus.  This explains the many cultures, diverse languages, skills and specific knowledge documented on our planet. 

The elders told stories of the agreement between the sea creators, the Supreme Creator, and the first people. The sea creators and the land creators would give their lives for the people as this was the plan from the beginning. The people only took what they needed, and honored the life of each creator taken for food, and clothing. In the ice lands, the first people soon learned to use portions of the sea creators for fuel to warm their huts, and cook their food.  Joy filled the hearts of the people because they were connected to the source of life, and they understood their place in the plan. Nothing was ever killed for sport, or trophy. This never entered the hearts of the first people to kill for such uselessness. It would have been considered unacceptable behavior, and the waste of the life of a living creator.


The Rainbow Bridge: How we & dolphins came to be–A Chumash origin story:

There is a sacred ancient story handed down even until today by the elders to the people of a small band of indigenous people from California, the Chumash.  They call themselves, as most indigenous people do, the first people.  Polaris, the North Star, was a central figure to the Chumash. They noticed it was the only star that never moved and that all the other stars and constellations rotated around it. The stars were both the Chumash guide and their entertainment. The elders spoke of the night sky as a map for the people, a way to remember how to return to their origin. The Chumash were well versed in ethno-botany and astronomy. They possessed a well-defined spirituality, based on a connection to the natural world and complex systematic study of the heavens. By monitoring the sun and the stars and keeping track of their positions, it told them when to plant and when to prepare for winter holidays corresponding with position of the sun. They saw themselves as part of creation and used their scientific expertise to monitor creation.

The Chumash elders tell the story of the rainbow bridge, which explains how dolphins and whales came to be in the waters on earth, and why they are considered relatives of the first people. Hutash Earth Mother created a rainbow bridge for the people to cross because the village had grown so large, and the people needed more land. This also explains why the Chumash understood and could speak the language of the whales and dolphins. You can view the entire story at the Chumash website.

 The people were afraid, to cross the rainbow bridge

“But Hutash, the Bridge is too high! What if
we fall? We will drown!” they protested.

“You are my people,” reassured Hutash.
“I will take care of you. In three days,
it will be time for most of you to go.”

The people put on their fur and leather clothes,
filled a few baskets with belongings,
and started up the Rainbow Bridge.
Families held hands to stay together.

“Keep your eyes on your goal,” said Hutash.
“Look ahead to where you are going.”

As the people climbed higher and higher
on the Rainbow Bridge, they could see the land
as clearly as on the days the warm winds
blow from the east, and they were excited.

But some people looked back, and some people
looked down. These people felt dizzy. The water
was a long long long way down. The fog licked
their toes. Some of the people grew afraid,
and they looked down instead of ahead to where they were
going. They doubted Hutash and their tummies
felt funny. Some of the people lost their
balance and they fell fell fell through the fog
toward the shimmering, dark sea far below.

Hutash had told her children she would take
care of them. So as they fell, she turned the
people into dolphins. When they landed
in the water, they could swim and dive and
hold their breath long enough to catch fish to eat.

The dolphin people are grateful to Hutash.
They like playing in the water so much
that they are always smiling.  And we
smile to watch our dolphin brothers and sisters.



 Tilikum was captured in Berufjörður off the East coast of Iceland in November 1983 at about three years of age. A male (Nandú) and a female (Samoa) were captured with him. The other two are now dead. He has been in captivity for over 30 years, and is recorded as the oldest in captivity. No one could have predicted that Tilikum would have survived 30 years in captivity.  The directors of SeaWorld, and even the people who captured him originally, had no idea he would live this long or get this big. There are few records available regarding the death of other whales and dolphins that have died in captivity and why they died.  Do the managers of the parks order the killing of the whales when they get too big, or too dangerous to handle? SeaWorld does not have the pool area to house several 12,000 pound Orca whales, so what happens to them when they get too large. It is a misnomer that a whale will not grow to its normal size when in captivity, that is a goldfish. Tilikum now measures 22.5 feet (6.9 m) long and weighs 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg). His pectoral fins are 7 feet (2.1 m) long, his flukes curl under, and his 6.5 feet (2.0 m)-tall dorsal fin is collapsed completely to his left side. He is the largest orca in captivity.  This fact alone about his size is the first indication proving the lack of responsibility from Sea World, and the industry when capturing whales and dolphins. This has been an experiment gone bad for Sea World. Little baby elephants are so cute, but do you take them home with you and put them in your back yard? Only if you have a couple of hundred acres with many trees for them to eat, right? Also as we have discussed whales eat other mammals, fish is not their primary diet. How do you provide a 12,000 pound whale with a proper diet if it eats other mammals? The dorsal fin is collapsed on most captured whales, atrophied, because of nonuse, is that not abuse.

Third death

On February 24, 2010, Tilikum was involved in a third incident when he killed Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old female trainer.  However there have been over 70 incidents of attacks from Tilikum, and other animals, most not reported by SeaWorld.  The autopsy noted that Dawn’s spinal cord was severed and she sustained fractures to her jawbone, ribs and a cervical vertebra.

Since this incident many former trainers and employees of SeaWorld have come forward to talk about the abuse of these animals.  At this time Tilikum is being used as a sperm bank through artificial insemination.  

On August 23, 2010, the park was fined US $75,000 by the Occupational Safety and Helath Administration  (OSHA) for three safety violations, two directly related to Brancheau's death. SeaWorld issued a statement that called OSHA's findings "unfounded".



Tilikum, swims alone now because his mate who was allowed to be near him in the small pool died, giving birth to his baby.  He does not know this, he only knows he hasn't seen her in a long time.  He looks for her rising up out of the water to peer into the other small pools, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.  He has not been able to hear her voice, nor can he find her.  He has been separated from her many times, but he could always hear her calling to him. But this time it’s different, he is frustrated, and angry.  A trainer throws him a bucket of fish iced down three times a day.   Many times he refuses to eat but takes a bobbing position in the water, a clear sign that he cannot take much more of his life at Sea World.  He hasn't seen his mother or his other relatives since he was three years old.  Tilikum remembers the freedom and protection he enjoyed with this family so long ago.

Bobbing in his small pool, sad, isolated and alone, He is barely mentioned during the shows at Sea World, because of all the bad publicity about his trainers death.  He has no family, and can hear the cheers from the crowds as his young son performs near by. He surfaces to the net at the end of his small pool to see what is going on just a few feet away from him as the crowds roar with delight at another Orca balancing a ball on his nose like a circus act.

    Tilikum is depressed and no one is allowed to interact with him because he has become psychotic, and dangerous. They spray him with a high pressure water hoses for a type of massage, instead of touching him as they did before Dawn’s death. This massive sacred creator watches as the trainers move around near his pools edge, what are they up to now? His teeth have been filed down until they are almost gone.  How do you file a 12,000 pound Orca whales teeth, by injecting a sedative? How do you pump out his sperm, does he just hold still while you manipulate his penis? These are some o the questions that scientist, naturalist, animal right organizations and yes activists are asking.


 News Update:  Sundance Film Festival 2013 - World Premiere, USA and the release of-

Blackfish, the story of Tilikum

A mesmerizing psychological thriller with a killer whale at its centre, Blackfish is the first film since Grizzly Man to show how nature can get revenge on man when pushed to its limits.

Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multibillion-dollar sea-park industry.

This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.

This may not be the end to the story of Tilikum’s life at SeaWorld.  A campaign has begun to collect a million dollars to buy Tilikum, and move him to a refuge foundation near the sea, where he will be retrained to hunt for his food, and possible released back to the wild. Do you think SeaWorld would take a million for Tilikum? Can you hear their corporate wheels turning, “Well if those people can collect one million lets see if they will collect ten million.” It would be a noble endeavor if SeaWorld would release this devastated whale to a refuge for release back to the Ocean. SeaWorld has made the announcement that Tilikum would not survive if returned to the wild.   Is his only choice a death as a captive in a small pool at SeaWorld?  Lets give him a chance to survive in his own world, doesn’t he deserve it.   Many people would begin to see this corporation in a more positive light if they would release this animal.  I cannot see how they can possibly ignore all the concerned scientists, and activists who are witnessing the making of a killer at SeaWorld.  The industry of capturing whales, and dolphin to make circus acts has to stop now. If people quit going to see the show, SeaWorld would get the message in one day.  Their pocket book is what drives the whale circus industry. By refusing to go to SeaWorld you would send a message straight to their corporate hearts.  Talk to your friends and family about the abuse of this whale, and many others held captive at amusement parks, like SeaWorld.  Go see the documentary Blackfish, and if it stirs something inside of you pick up the cause.  SeaWorld would be forced to do other types of events rather than exploiting capture whales and dolphins. 

Save one whale, just one. In saving this whale humanity is saying we remember the original plan of creation. These animals are our relatives, what happens to them happens to us. Your heritage may be traced back to the first people, Navajo, Lakota, Mayan, even Chumsha, no matter take on the cause, bring the spirit of oneness into your heart. Predetermine that next time you see a 12,000 pound Orca whale breach into the air from the ocean you will be standing on a sea coast somewhere rather than standing in front of a big glass panel at SeaWorld. 


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Comment by Nancy Oakes on August 6, 2013 at 11:18am

Thank you so much. 

Comment by Trevor Taylor on August 6, 2013 at 3:03am

"Hi Nancy - I have noted that you have asked me to have a look at your article on the Captivity of Whales - just to let you know that I am working on it today, and will get back to you :)"

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