NORFOLK, Vir. – PETA has served notice to SeaWorld attorneys that it plans to file an amicus Delphinidae brief in a Florida district court on behalf of Tilikum, the so-called “killer whale,” who is suspected of drowning one of his trainers while attempting to turn her into sashimi.
“Though killer whales, also known as orcas, are considered whales by most people, they are actually members of the Delphinidae (dolphin) family,” said PETA co-founder and president, Ingrid Newkirk. “Therefore, Tilikum deserves to be tried as a dolphin.”
PETA’s legal strategy is a clever one. Dolphins enjoy a much higher Q score than killer whales do. That fact alone should make jury selection easier for Tilikum’s defense team, which is going to need considerable help in defending its client.
Attorneys for SeaWorld and for trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was allegedly killed by Tilikum, plan to invoke a little known three-strikes Florida statute to seek the death penalty for Tilikum.
Ms. Brancheau’s death marked the third time that Tilikum, 30, has been involved in a human death. In 1991 he was one of three orcas blamed for killing a trainer after she had lost her balance and had fallen into the pool at Sealand of the Pacific near Victoria, British Columbia. Even though Tilikum was only eleven at the time, he was tried as an adult.
Tilikum was also involved in the 1999 death of a man who had sneaked into SeaWorld to swim with whales. The man jumped, fell, or was pulled into the frigid water and died of hypothermia non compos mentis, though he had been bruised, scratched, and perhaps sexually assaulted by Tilikum.
According to observers, Ms. Brancheau, 40, was petting Tilikum from a poolside platform when the twelve-thousand-pound creature reached up, grabbed her with its mouth, and dragged her underwater, where she drowned. Dozens of horrified visitors who were still hanging around after a noontime show witnessed the event.
In an effort to clear the area, SeaWorld immediately announced that if visitors brought their ticket stubs to the box office, they would receive complimentary passes to SeaWorld’s Dance of the Killer Whales.
Although PETA’s Newkirk would not comment on courtroom strategy, a source close to the organization suggested that a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea might be forthcoming.
“There is no report of free-ranging killer whales, I mean dolphins, ever killing a human being,” said the source. “If you were put in a watery jail and forced to perform demeaning tricks for clueless tourists, you’d want to tear a rib out of somebody, too. We can’t let Tilikum’s trial turn into a kangaroo court.”
In related news, Bold City Brewery, manufacturers of Killer Whale Cream Ale, has agreed to donate ten cents of every dollar earned on Killer Whale Cream Ale to Tilikum’s defense fund.