As readers of the news stories about the death of a whale trainer at Orlando Sea World will know, the tragic incident has a BC connection.
Tillikum, the 30-year-old male killer whale responsible for the trainer's death, lived at Sealand of the Pacific, an aquarium in Oak Bay, for much of his early life. Sealand was established in 1969 by Bob Wright, a Victoria-area marina owner who now owns the very successful Oak Bay Marine Group. When the facility opened, it housed a killer whale named Haida, a bottlenose dolphin named Chloe, three Steller sea lions and some seabirds.
Sealand caused a sensation in 1970 when Wright and some colleagues managed to capture a white killer whale off the coast of southern Vancouver Island. Named Chimo, she was the only white orca in captivity anywhere. Jacques Cousteau even came to get a look and there were reports that Wright turned down a million dollar offer for her. Unfortunately Chimo took sick and died late in 1972.
Tillikum arrived at Sealand from his native Iceland in 1983. In February 1991 he was involved in his first incident that resulted in a human death. When a 20-year-old trainer named Keltie Byrne fell into the pool, Tillikum and two other captive whales held her under the water until she drowned. Not long after, Sealand of the Pacific closed. Tillikum was shipped to Orlando where he has been ever since.
After this latest incident, Tillikum's future is very much in question. Having lived almost his entire life in captivity, he is dependent on humans. Orca Network, an organization that monitors killer whales here in the Pacific Northwest, wants him retired to a sea pen near Iceland to live out his days. Others, I'm sure, want him euthanized. Orlando Sea World has not said what it plans to do.