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Tilikum can now be at peace

Tilikum, the orca who killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Branchau, and two other people over the course of his life, and who was made famous by the film “Blackfish,” died yesterday, Friday, January 7. The news is in hundreds of papers today, probably including yours. Most of the stories share perfunctory details, including Tilikum’s long battle with a respiratory illness, and some quote SeaWorld’s web site lines of his having died “surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care,” and the company’s suggestion that he was old for an orca. I will point out two stories of note:Though the Scottish Daily Mail coverage is standard, the copywriter who chose the heading seems to have strong feelings on the issue; the article is titled, “Free at last: Captive killer orca dies.” (Page 11 – unavailable online except to subscribers.) If I have Scottish subscribers who read DawnWatch regularly I would love to know it, and I hope their letters to the editor will acknowledge that touching headline.
The Christian Science Monitor, a highly respected paper, non religious, that is now published daily on line, and weekly via a print magazine, took a tone different from most media outlets, and a wider outlook. It’s article, by David Iaconangelo, is titled, “Tilikum legacy: How one orca changed SeaWorld; The orca whale, profiled in the 2013 documentary ‘Blackfish,’ became a symbol of the cruelty of captivity for animal-rights activists and much of the public.” Sharing much of the information in the standard Associated Press coverage, Iaconangelo went further:

“The orca’s story was often a tragic one, involving three human deaths in three separate incidents. The film that documented those incidents, ‘Blackfish,’ stoked a movement that questioned the ethics of keeping wild animals in captivity – a movement that is likely to outlive Tilikum.”

Note that he refers to “wild animals in captivity” rather than only orcas.

He writes, “SeaWorld’s decision to end its orca breeding program shows that shifting public attitudes around animal welfare can and do influence how businesses treat animals, conservationists say.”

And importantly, though he shares SeaWorld’s suggestion that age 36 is “about typical” for an orca death, his report ends with this line:
“His death comes the same week as the death of 105-year-old ‘Granny,’ a once-captive killer whale later freed in waters off of Vancouver and tracked by scientists, whose data eventually served as the underpinnings of endangered species classification.”

You’ll find the full story on line at http://tinyurl.com/ztzkhyx and I hope you will share it widely.

The Christian Science Monitor only prints and shares letters that are in response to articles in its weekly magazine. It seems likely, however, that a daily online story that gets a lot of positive feedback is more likely to end up in that weekly print magazine, so I encourage you, via the website, to leave a positive comment on the story. You can do that at http://tinyurl.com/h4pnadb

Even more importantly, as your local paper has surely covered Tilikum’s death, (or can, via you) and you are highly likely to be published in your local paper, please take a few minutes, on behalf of poor Tilikum and all of the other animals who suffer in captivity for human entertainment, and send a letter in their honor to your editor. The Christian Science Monitor story provides a nice guide of sorts for letters that look at the wider issues.

It’s easy to find the email address for a letter to the editor. Just go to your local paper’s website and scroll to the bottom of the page where you will usually see a small “contact us” tab, which will include contact information including that for letters to the editor. If you can’t find it anywhere on the website you could just call the paper and ask for the email address, get it in about thirty seconds, and store it for later regular use. Or you could ask me for help finding the address. I am also always happy to help edit letters to the editor of your paper — until you get the hang of making them short, to the point, and heartfelt on your own.

Always include your full name, address and phone number when sending a letter to the editor.

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