Tilikum Is Breeding a Generation of Deadly Killer Whales, Ex-Trainer Warns SeaWorld

Soon after a killer whale named Tilikum dragged a SeaWorld Orlando trainer to her death last week, news emerged that the incident wasn't the whale's first violent outburst.

Tilikum, in fact, had already killed twice before, drowning a trainer in 1991 in a Vancouver park and fatally injuring an after-hours intruder in 1999.

But SeaWorld's culpability in Tilikum's latest death goes much, much deeper than just ignoring a violent history, according to Russ Rector, a former dolphin trainer turned activist.

Tilikum, in fact, has sired every killer whale bred in captivity at SeaWorld, Rector says -- and has passed his violent tendencies on to a whole new generation of killer whales that are already showing signs of the same behavior.

As proof, Rector provided Riptide with a report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health from 2006 detailing a near-fatal attack on a trainer at SeaWorld's San Diego facility by a killer whale named Kasatka -- a whale that, Rector says, company officials have confirmed was fathered by Tilikum.

"Tilikum is invaluable to them as a breeder," Rector tells Riptide. "Unfortunately, orcas are hard to get but trainers a dime a dozen to SeaWorld."

According to the California report, a 39-year-old trainer was seriously injured in November 2006 when Kasatka turned violent during a performance.

During a climactic final trick, the whale grabbed the trainer by his foot, thrashed him about like a "rag doll," and repeatedly held him on the bottom of the pool for minutes at a time.

At one point, the trainer, who is not named, "felt his breath going out and he thought about his boy and wondered if she was going to let him up."

Other trainers were eventually able to distract Kasatka long enough to allow the injured trainer to escape. He survived with broken bones and severe wounds to both feet.

In the investigators' chilling conclusion, they warn another attack is inevitable.

"The contributing factors to the accident, in the simplest of terms, is that swimming with captive orcas is inherently dangerous and if someone hasn't been killed already it is only a matter of time before it does happen."

The attacks at SeaWorld are even more inevitable, Rector says, because Tilikum is inherently unsuited to captive life -- a trait he passes on to each of his children, like Kasatka.

Deaths like that of trainer Dawn Brancheau, the 40-year-old killed last week, will keep happening, he warns.

"Tilikum and his offspring are loaded guns," he says. "SeaWorld played Russian roulette with Dawn's life and lost."

Riptide contacted SeaWorld to try to confirm Rector's accusations, but we haven't received a call back.

You can read the full California report here:

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink