Thanks to dolphin advocate Russ Rector, and his FOIA persistence, a large set of documents related to SeaWorld's purchase of Tilikum from Sealand of the Pacific has now been released by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Last week, I commented on SeaWorld's November 1991 application for a permit to import Tilikum (along with Sealand's two females -- Haida and Nootka). The documents (which I have posted in full here) included a very revealing back and forth between NOAA and SeaWorld over how to handle the fact that the Sealand killer whales had killed trainer Keltie Byrne.
This week, I am looking at a set of documents related to SeaWorld's December 1991 request for an emergency permit to transport Tilikum from Sealand to SeaWorld Florida as soon as possible. What is most notable to me, is that the documents reveal a new level of potential trauma experienced by Tilikum which until now has been little understood.
SeaWorld's request to move Tilikum from Sealand to SeaWorld Florida in Orlando on an emergency basis was triggered by Haida, one of Sealand's two pregnant female killer whales, giving birth to a calf on Dec. 24, 1991. The newborn orca upset the delicate social dynamic in which Tilikum, the subdominant male, was often on the receiving end of aggression from Haida and Nootka, the other female. This was an issue for both Sealand and SeaWorld, because Sealand was purportedly making millions from the sale of its three killer whales, and SeaWorld was spending millions to bring in new killer whales who could help expand its breeding program (which was especially in need of a breeding male). Neither Sealand nor SeaWorld wanted the valuable merchandise damaged. Consequently, Tilikum was placed in Sealand's tiny medical pool, or module, a small, enclosed space usually used to house the killer whales overnight to protect against the possibility that someone might cut the show pool net to free them.
Both The Killer In The Pool and Blackfish documented the trauma and physical issues Tilikum might have suffered as a result of being cooped up nightly in this tiny enclosure with two females who did not always treat him gently. According to these newly released documents, after the birth of Haida's calf, Sealand and SeaWorld felt it was necessary (for his protection, and for the protection of the calf) to isolate him in the module 24-hours a day. Even when the gate to the module was opened after New Year's Eve, according to the documents, if Tilikum ventured out he would get chased back into the module by Haida and Nootka. So for weeks before he was finally moved to SeaWorld in early January the 20-foot Tilikum was confined in a space -- just 23 feet wide and 12 foot deep -- that was barely large enough for him to turn around in.
Here is a summary of the situation, and SeaWorld's emergency request, written by NMFS Office Of Protected Resources Chief Nancy Foster: