Through the work I do as an advocate for animals (specifically captive wildlife), I’ve come to realize that there are very few people who can truly understand a relationship you can establish with a particular animal you’re championing for and exactly what that entails.
Today we learned that Tilikum is gravely ill. SeaWorld has stated that he has an apparent “untreatable” condition. I must admit, I’m a little bit ignorant to his situation but do know his tragic story. We have all learned it through the wonderful film “Blackfish.” That film has opened a multitude of blind eyes to the truth behind the vile captive whale industry and through Tilikum’s plight, we saw that. We clearly saw that.
We all know about the film and the circumstances surrounding it, but I wanted to discuss something most people do not thoroughly understand………
As you’re aware, my fight is for our girl here in Ontario, Kiska. I’ve sat there for hours with her. Watching her bob up and down in her chlorinated concrete tank. Watched her for countless amounts of hours while she swims her obsessive path, over and over and over and over and over again. I’ve watched people pointing at her through a glass wall. I’ve watched people laugh at her when she has to relieve herself. I’ve watched Marineland masturbate her. I’ve watched them shove instruments in the gaping holes in her teeth while she flinches. And I’ve watched her do this for several years now. Alone.
I’m not an overly emotional person. Can’t be, given what I do. Suppose I may be a bit numb. But that animal……there was something about her. It was an immediate connection that very few could ever understand and since the day I first laid eyes on her, I knew there was nothing that could stop me from doing everything in my power to help her. Sound familiar? The sleepless nights. The worry. The tears. The work involved. The meetings. The constant thinking and analyzing your next move………..all of that and then some…..All for HER. Every single second……
Today when I found out about Tilikum, my first thought was something I have often said to myself as well as publicly several times regarding Kiska……..”He’s better off……sometimes dead is better….” And then I thought about it. I thought about it for a long time………For the first time, the news of Tilikum’s deteriorating health made it real for me. And through that, the thought of loosing Kiska was actually terrifying…..
When I said, “Tilikum’s better off,” do I truly mean that? Then my first thought was of the numerous times I’ve said that about Kiska. Do I mean that or is it something I just say because I know it’s right? Am I being selfish in wanting her to continue? Do I REALLY want her to die? I mulled over all the possibilities for her and I came to the conclusion that no. I don’t………and then I started thinking, “But that’s selfish of me. How could I possibly want her to continue like this?” I then started comparing the situation to a friend or family member…….if you have someone you’re close to that you care tremendously for that is ill or perhaps not living in appropriate conditions, would I really want them to die? We may say it to make ourselves try and feel better but no. We don’t actually want them to die……..we would want them to get better. We want their situation rectified.
I think, when dealing with a situation like this, a main component for activists dealing with a similar issue is the aspect of defeat. You fight so damn hard…….so hard …..and there is a light approaching at the end of this very dark tunnel for these animals. There really is…….and that light has plenty to do with what Tilikum has taught us. So, for me (and I’m positive for others as well), we want what’s best for them. That’s it. Nothing else matters and that day is coming!
Something else that went through my mind today was this concept humans have established at funerals. The concept that a funeral is to “celebrate one’s life.” This is another enormous hurdle I think we tend to face as championing for these animals. How can you possibly celebrate their lives when they didn’t have one? It’s not like your family pet where you can make yourself try and feel better by telling yourself “They had a wonderful life though……” This is simply not the case for these animals. I grieve for their lives and they are not even dead yet.
However, that is why we do the work we do. We want a world where we can celebrate their lives and that world is quickly approaching……
I don’t know many people who have taken Tilikum’s terrible plight on their shoulders and made it their life’s work to fight for him personally. But I am aware of a select few who I know have lied awake all those countless nights worrying about him just like I have for Kiska.
Tilikum is the poster whale for all captive orca and through the film “Blackfish” we all got to know him and his horrible existence well. He made us all take a stand and his “life” was NOT in vain……far from it! So for that, THANK YOU TILIKUM. THANK YOU……
To the select few of you who made it your life’s work to help this animal, I get it. I know how you must be feeling but in saying that- I PROMISE YOU, through Kiska’s equally tragic existence, we will continue the fight. If she can do anything from her tank in solitude, this animal can teach. She can continue to teach just as Tilikum did and we will continue to be her voice to do just that!
THANK YOU TILIKUM-