In 2010, a killer whale held in captivity at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida turned against its trainer and attacked her in front of a horrified audience. The attack resulted in Dawn Brancheau's death.
Dawn was not Tilikum's first victim. In 1991, the marine mammal killed Keltie Byrne, and in 1999, it pulled a man that had jumped into its enclosure underwater and kept him there until he drowned.
These attacks are documented and explained in a documentary film titled “Blackfish.”
The documentary was screened at this year's Sheffield documentary film festival, Daily Mail reports.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite explains that, as her investigations and several other previous studies have shown, keeping orcas captive and making them perform in front of an audience can only lead to disaster.
This is because the conditions these marine mammals are forced to live in either at SeaWorld or at some other marine park mess with their psychological wellbeing and ultimately alter their behavior.
As Gabriela Cowperthwaite puts it, captive killer whales tend to be more aggressive than the ones living in the wild.
Since they have no other way of coping with their frustrations, the killer whales end up living up to their name.
Thus, they turn against their trainers, seemingly without any warning, and either badly injure or kill them.
Although Dawn Brancheau's tragic death got loads of publicity, Gabriela Cowperthwaite says that hundreds of so-called near misses have gone unnoticed over the years.
“These [killer whales] are huge and highly intelligent animals. They should not be in captivity,” the director reportedly stated.
“I spent two years tracking down all these incidents. There have been four deaths and many near misses and injuries, I suspect possibly hundreds - no-one likes to report them,” she further explained.
In the aftermath of Tilikum's attack on Dawn, it was agreed that trainers should no longer get in the water with these animals. However, marine parks are still allowed to keep orcas captive and make them perform in front of crowds.
Conservationists and several wildlife researchers urge that such performances be banned as soon as possible, and that marine parks quit abusing the orcas in their care in this manner.