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Tilikum’s Health Improving As Tanking SeaWorld Turns To Saudi Arabia

Tilikum, the world’s best known Orca, might be beating the odds.

SeaWorld announced on Tuesday that Tilikum’s health is improving following a bout with a lung infection which was expected to be fatal.

Director of Animal Training at SeaWorld, Kelly Flaherty Clark, said that the whale is well enough to take him out of isolation.

“The cool thing is that, as he’s gotten stronger, we’ve been able to re-acclimate him with some of his pod.”

She added that Tilikum is swimming more and gaining weight, but his situation is still “guarded.”

Tilikum’s improving health is expected to elicit an increase in cries for his release to a sea pen. SeaWorld has already been offered a million dollars by a baby product company, Munchkin, Inc., who asked the park to allow Tilikum to live in an ocean habitat.

Plans to build the habitat are already underway.

The Washington Post published a June 20 letter to the editor from Daniel Frank, who extolled the function of SeaWorld in society, saying that millennials don’t have a problem with dolphins in captivity.

“The decision to end a successful breeding program or retire animals to sea pens signals a bad omen. Forget the animals in captivity currently; all animals will be in serious danger when we stop connecting with them in zoos and aquariums.”

The controversy is expected to continue as long as the whales are in captivity. Incidents of the mammals’ self-mutilation and desperation go viral on social media, such as an orca jumping out of the pool to escape attack from tank mates.

Tilikum, who was featured in the documentary film Blackfish, gained international notoriety after he killed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, during a performance. Brancheau’s death followed two other fatalities stemming from human interaction with the whale.

The 2013 documentary shed new light on SeaWorld, revealing never-before-seen footage of suffering whales, chewed-up trainers, and heartbreaking capture scenes. The company suffered plummeting attendance and a US $15.9 million loss in the year after the release of Blackfish.

With stocks falling and the cancellation of its U.S. orca performances, SeaWorld has turned to Saudi Arabia as a potential host for a new park.

Emirates Woman reported that following a meeting with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman during his June US tour, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment CEO Joel Manby expressed an interest in going forward with SeaWorld Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has beautiful coastlines filled with marine life and wild animals and it is in need for a tourism push. We are waiting for the opportunity to go there.”

This effort followed a 2008 rejection by the Dubai public when SeaWorld considered finding a station there. Citizens signed a petition to keep SeaWorld out of the emirate – garnering close to 100,000 signatures.

The petition’s author, Melanie Barrett explained.

“Dubai has a great reputation as a popular tourist destination for beautiful architecture, beautiful nature and kind-hearted people, thus you should not tarnish your great reputation by allowing SeaWorld to open a SeaWorld park in Dubai.’

“In the wild, killer whales are the king of the ocean and they swim 100 miles per day. In confinement, they are living in a tiny swimming pool that is the equivalent to a human living in a bathtub.”

Tilikum was voted “Most Influential Living Animal of 2016” by Time Magazine.

(Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)