Is Tilikum the first serial killer whale?
The headline seems flippant, but the question is worth asking.
Tilikum, the biggest orca in captivity, has been linked to three human deaths.
The first occurred in 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific in the Victoria suburb of Oak Bay. A trainer, Keltie Byrne, drowned after ending up in the pool with Tilikum and two other whales.
Tilikum was sent to SeaWorld in Orlando over the objection of B.C. animal-rights activists. In 1999, a man who somehow got into Tilikum's pool never got out alive.
And yesterday, an experienced trainer died after ending up in the same pool as Tilikum.
If a human being was put in solitary confinement for nearly 20 years, he or she might feel a little homicidal toward the guards. We don't know if Tilikum has experienced a similar emotion toward his trainers.
But three deaths in 19 years raises some serious questions about the effect of keeping these enormous creatures in relatively small pools.
We phased out keeping orcas in captivity in B.C. several years ago.
SeaWorld Orlando, however, states that it has "every intention of continuing to interact with this animal [Tilikum], though the procedures for working with him will change."
Perhaps this latest tragedy will be the catalyst for campaigns to bring a legislative ban on the practice of keeping orcas in captivity--on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.