Questions have been raised by animal-rights advocates regarding the details surrounding the death of SeaWorld’s orca whale Tilikum. 36 year old Tilikum, subject of the popular documentary Blackfish, passed away in January after suffering from a serious lung infection. The law requires SeaWorld to notify the federal government as to the cause of death, which it has, stating that the whale’s death was a result of bacterial pneumonia. Additional details have not followed however, as SeaWorld will not be making the results of Tilikum’s necropsy public.
Since 1994, following a congressional amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, public disclosure of details regarding the deaths of whales and dolphins in captivity has not been required. During that reauthorization amendments were written by representatives from zoos, aquariums, and marine mammal parks, according to animal advocates and a federal official. David Kirby expounds on this process in his book “Death at SeaWorld”, writing, “The industry and its powerful allies on Capitol Hill had quietly devised a raft of changes to the law behind closed doors and presented them here for the first time. Now, SeaWorld and its formidable coalition of zoos and aquariums had finally shown their hand on display issues.”
According to animal rights advocates, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a National Marine Fisheries Service import permit from 1992 for Tilikum requires that within 30 days of death a necropsy and clinical history be submitted to the government. SeaWorld claims that the 1992 permit is superseded by the 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The issue will be reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Animal Welfare groups believe the full necropsy results could provide valuable information on both the effects of pneumonia for whales as well as the effects of captivity. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, stresses the importance of this, saying “What the bacteria was, where did it come from — its food, the water, the air and so on … all of that could and should be revealed by the necropsy report, just as it would be in an autopsy report on a human being — the forensics, if you will.” Rose thinks that the withheld information could support her view that captivity has negative consequences for dolphins and whales.
Judy St. Leger, SeaWorld Entertainment vice president of science and research, claims that there is no need for SeaWorld to release necropsy details. Tilikum’s tissues are being used in more than a dozen studies that will be published upon completion. These studies range from metabolic studies on caloric intake of orcas to whale genetics studies at the high school science fair level, according to St. Leger.
What disposal method for the parts of Tilikum that were not used for research has not been released by SeaWorld. SeaWorld Spokeswoman Aimee Jeansonne Becka has stated that the orca’s body was “disposed in accordance with Florida law.” Law allows for the body to be incinerated, buried, or “rendered” by a licensed company, converting the animals waste tissue into other materials.
Source: The Orlando Sentinel