Tilikum the Blackfish

Posted on June 4, 2013


Blackfish: A Real Life Orca Story

Blackfish: Puttin’ the ‘Killer’ in Killer Whale

In February 2010 a horrible story caught my eye, the death of Sea World-Orlando employee Dawn Brancheau, an animal trainer who was killed when one of the killer whales she worked with turned on her.
I’m a landlocked-landlubber who grew up hundreds of miles from the ocean but ‘fish’ movies (I’ve seen Jaws about 8,000 times) have always fascinated me, ‘Killer Whales’ in particular since I watched the movie Orca at the drive-in theater in 1977.
The story of this particular Orca, Tilikum is his name, is incredible, I can’t wait to see this movie.
I decided to polish up and reblog this piece I originally posted about Tilikum on 3/11/2010 – 
Tilikum is a serial killer.  
He has attacked and killed three people and his murderous spree goes back almost two decades.  
He has a one-word name like his famous peers, Manson, Bundy, Gacy etc.  Even the famous fictitious killers like Hannibal and Jason use a one-word moniker.
Much as Manson held the members of his ‘family’ in check with his charm, so Tilikum seduced the crowds.
As Hannibal seemed almost likeable to Agent Starling and movie audiences alike, so did Tilikum who danced and entertained like a court jester.  
This warm blooded killer has thrilled hundreds of thousands through the years with his feats of daring.
But one thing sets Tilikum apart from the likes of Jack the Ripper or Richard ‘the Night Stalker’ Ramirez. He’s not human.  
Tilikum is a 22-foot long, 12,500-pound Orca.  Orcas are more commonly known as Killer Whales.
Note the word KILLER, it’s right there in the name and believe me, where ole Tilly is concerned, it’s more than just a nickname.
Back in 1991 our charming killer got started when he and two girlfriends drowned a 20-year-old woman named Keltie Bryne.  She evidently interrupted their little killer whale ménage a toi by accidentally falling into their pool.
One night in 1999, a homeless man broke in and decided to get a little too close to Tilly’s pool. He should have headed to a local shelter or perhaps found a nice highway overpass, even a dumpster would have been a better choice, because Killer Whale World oops, I mean Seaworld-Orlando employees, found him, dead, draped across the Orca’s body the next morning.
On February 24th this year, after a long hiatus, Tilikum struck again.  He murdered one of his trainers, a 24-year-old woman named Dawn Brancheau. One moment Brancheau was feeding Tilly dead fish as a reward for tricks he’d been performing. Tricks like spinning round while ‘standing’ on his tail and bouncing from side to side on the edge of the pool, movements the animal ‘learns’ from watching the trainer.
That’s what the unfortunate Ms. Brancheau was doing when Tilikum leapt partially from the pool, grabbed her by the hair and drug her to her death in front of a stunned and horrified crowd.
I’ve given this Killer Whale’s story much thought since I first read about it and can only come to one conclusion.  
These people are morons.
I know, I know, it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead but in this case I feel I must.  If these two young ladies and one homeless guy had not been in close proximity to a 22 foot long, 12,500-pound KILLER whale, they would still be alive.
The story reminds me of a guy I used to hang out when I was a teenager in broadcasting school.  His name was Byron.  Byron shared something in common with Keltie, homeless dude and Dawn, he loved animals, and particularly animals that could kill a person should a murderous urge strike them.  
He owned a pack of German Shepherds, seriously, not two or three but like 7 to 10 German Shepherds, a real, barking, howling and hunting, by God pack of dogs!  Whenever I went to his house I’d have to sit in my car and wait for him to corral the ‘hounds of hell’ that swarmed my vehicle the moment I turned in his driveway.  He had snakes and scorpions and squirrels and all kinds of birds too.  Damn fool even had an alligator once.
One day Byron got his dream job.
Now you might think an animal lover like my friend would have made a pretty good zookeeper. You would be wrong. 
Byron was hired by the Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo in Monroe.  
Quick note: this was in the ‘bad old days’ of the Zoo, the late 1980’s.  
My friend only worked there for a few months, and what I’m about to tell you could NEVER happen today at the LPG&Z.  
I love the place believe me, and hope you and your kids enjoy it as my family and I do.  
That said, my friend Byron took me on a tour one day and it was really a lot of fun and quite interesting… till we got to the cathouse.
It was the old one, the one that’s been gone at least 15 years and unlike the wide-open habitats at LPG&Z today, these were just oversized birdcages where these poor, sad big cats lived a dreary existence, pacing back and forth and round and round.  
It really was sad to see.  
During our tour Byron took me down the habitat walkway, a passage only used by zookeepers, not the general public. Oh, did I mention Byron and I had consumed not a small amount of Evan Williams’ whiskey before and continued consuming our firewater of choice all during this private, drunken tour?  
We were not particularly careful (again, this was over twenty years ago and the management and people at the zoo now would never allow this to happen today).  
Red, the lion that lived at the Zoo for as long as I can remember didn’t bat an eye when we strolled right by his cage.  I mean RIGHT by his cage.  
Likewise for the tiger, who just watched us drunken idiots stroll by like the fools we were.  
But the leopard (at least I think it was a leopard, I just remember it was smaller than the lion and the tiger, but it could have been a lynx or maybe even a panther) didn’t react so kindly to our presence.  
He, or maybe it was a she, trust me I didn’t get close enough to check, shot across the cage and tried to bat at us with its paw.  It wasn’t attacking you see, it was playing with us, like when a house-cat slaps at a ball of yarn.  
Except house-cats can’t eviscerate you.  Mr. Leopard could.  With a single swipe. A casual, single, lazy swipe, one that wouldn’t cause Mr. Leopard (or lynx or panther or what the hell ever kind of killer cat it was) to break a sweat, but would have spread our entrails from the zoo’s old train depot all the way to the monkey house.
By the grace of God, or the luck of a dumb drunk, you decide, both Byron and I managed to come away without injury that day.  
No idea where Byron is today, haven’t seen him since ‘92; the last I heard he was still living it up with his menagerie of animals. As for yours truly, I learned a valuable lesson. I don’t get near any kind of animal, whether it roams the land or swims the sea, which could potentially make me a meal. Or a chew toy.  
Not killer whales, not lions or tigers or bears oh my, hell no!
Blackfish In Theatres 07/19 from Magnolia Pictures. The trailer will give you nightmares, go watch it at – http://www.blackfishmovie.com
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