Serial killer whale?

Orca implicated in deaths of three people in 1991, 1999, and 2010.
Crosscut archive image.

A pod of southern resident orca whales. (Wikipedia)

Orca implicated in deaths of three people in 1991, 1999, and 2010.

A killer whale named Tilikum has been blamed for killing a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida on Wed. Feb 24. According to the Associated Press, the experienced trainer was dragged underwater and "thrashed around violently" in front of a live audience. It's not the first time a captive orca has killed, but what's particularly interesting is that this onetime Northwest whale has been involved in the deaths of three people over the last two decades.

The AP reports:

Tilikum is one of three orcas blamed for killing a trainer who lost her balance and fell in the pool with them in 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia.

Tilikum was also involved in a 1999 death, when the body of a man who had sneaked by Orlando SeaWorld security was found draped over him. The man either jumped, fell, or was pulled into the frigid water and died of hypothermia, though he was also bruised and scratched by Tilikum....

An autopsy ruled that he died of hypothermia in the 50-degree water. But officials also said it appeared Tilikum bit the man and tore off his swimming trunks, likely believing he was a toy to play with.

I remember how the era of killer whale captives began when Ted Griffin dragged the captive Namu to Pier 56 in 1965 and much of Seattle flocked to see the unhappy beast that launched the era of capturing. Subsequent commercial captures caused the deaths of numerous whales and public opinion in Seattle generally turned against the practice, even though orcas became popular attractions at marine shows.

I also remember channels in the San Juans where huge passing pods filled the night with their exhalations. It might have been only an impression, but after the Ted Griffin era, there seemed to be fewer whales. I've often wondered what the orcas themselves made of it. Do some experience a kind of rage what's happened to them, and their species?

We are often told that the term killer whale is a misnomer, and that might be true in the wild as far as humans are concerned. But in captivity, it can be another matter.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.