Orca Tilikum Is PETA’s ‘Animal of the Year’

Ailing Animal's Life Sentence Has Driven Sea Change in Public Opinion

For Immediate Release:
December 15, 2016

David Perle 202-483-7382

Norfolk, Va. – For more than three decades, Tilikum the orca has existed in a cramped tank and been attacked by other orcas, masturbated by trainers, and put in isolation. His tragic life—exposed to millions in the documentary Blackfish—changed the way that the public thinks about keeping orcas in captivity and has led to SeaWorld’s financial downward spiral. To recognize all that the ailing Tilikum has endured as he nears the end of his life, PETA is naming him its first-ever Animal of the Year.

He was only 2 years old when he was captured from the ocean in 1983. He hasn’t seen his family or home since. Frustrated by his confinement and lack of autonomy, he has killed three people, including trainer Dawn Brancheau—and as punishment for her death, he was kept in solitary confinement for a year. In addition to being forced to perform, he has been used as a breeding machine: He’s been sexually manipulated into fathering 21 calves—more than half the orcas born at SeaWorld—11 of whom are dead.

“Tilikum was kidnapped from his mother and his home when he was just a baby and has been condemned to a living death for nearly four decades,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “His grim existence has changed public opinion about keeping orcas in tanks, and the backlash prompted SeaWorld to stop breeding orcas.”

In recent years, SeaWorld’s attendance has plummeted, hundreds of employees have been laid off—including more than 300 just last week—and corporate partners have severed ties with the abusement park. The company’s business model is floundering, yet it continues to sink millions of dollars into failed public relations campaigns to try to stay afloat.

PETA (whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”) is calling on SeaWorld to do the right thing for all the remaining animals at its parks—including the orcas, beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, walruses, penguins, and many others—by rehabilitating and releasing them back into the wild or into coastal sanctuaries, where they could spend the remainder of their lives in as natural a setting as possible.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind