The Death of Keltie Byrne

January 16, 2018
By Anonymous

Keltie Byrne, a twenty year old marine biology student and part time trainer at Sealand in British Columbia, was attacked by the killer whale Tilikum on February 20th, 1991.  Going into the background of Tilikum, you see that before Byrne was attacked, he was getting abused and was in captivity in Sealand for eight years. Sealand claimed that it was a freak accident but eye witness accounts contradict with this statement. Sealand sold Tilikum to Seaworld in Orlando, Florida. While there, Tilikum attacked and killed two more people: Daniel P Dukes and Dawn Brancheau. If Tilikum was never kept in captivity, Byrne, Dukes, and Brancheau would still be alive.

Byrne was a part time orca trainer at Sealand at the Oak Bay Marina in British Columbia. After a show, Byrne slipped and fell into the whale pool. Tilikum and his roommates Nootka and Haida dragged and brought Byrne down into the pool until she drowned. Other trainers tried distracting the whales but the whales would not give up. It took the trainers two hours to recover her body from the killer whales. "She tried to get back out and the other girl tried to pull her up, but the whale grabbed her back foot and pulled her under, and then the whales -- they bounced her around the pool a whole bunch of times, and she was screaming for help.They tried to grab her with sticks, but they couldn't get her, and she finally didn't come up any more.” eyewitness Nadine Kallen recalls. (Kuo, Vivian) Possible causes of the attack included unfamiliarity with the trainer (Byrne) and the relationship between the whales. The coroner's report states that Byrne’s main cause of death was drowning. Under recommendations, the coroner says “At least one staff person be actively monitoring safety in and around the pool while the general public is in the area….” (Project, The Orca)

  In November of 1983, Tilikum was only two years old when he was captured and brought to Sealand. His tank at Sealand was 100 foot by 50 foot and was only 35 feet deep. Tilikum weighed 12,500 pounds and measured 22 feet in length.He shared this cell with two female killer whales named Haida and Nootka. Both female whales were abusive towards Tilikum. Tilikum struggled with performing some of the tricks and this would make the trainers not give Tilikum, Haida, and Nootka food. This was the main reason the females would abuse Tilikum. Tilikum became stressed out having to perform every hour, eight times a day, for seven days a week.This stress made Tilikum develop stomach ulcers. This stress and solitary are other possible causes to the attack of Byrne. After Byrne was killed, Sealand closed and put Tilikum up for sale. (Over 30 Years)

Sealand released a statement about the death which was contrary to the statement given by eyewitnesses.  “She had ten tooth marks on her body, the largest on her left thigh, but was otherwise untouched. The whales had stripped her clothes off. “It was just a tragic accident,” Sealand manager Alejandro Bolz told newspaper reporters. “I just cannot explain it.” Other employees say something differently. “ A champion swimmer who had competed at the international level, she was no match for three huge orcas determined to keep her in the pool. At one point she reached the side and tried to climb out but, as horrified visitors watched from the sidelines, the whales pulled her screaming back into the pool. I just heard her scream my name,” said trainer Karen McGee, 25, and then I saw she was in the pool with the whales. “I threw the life-ring out to her. She was trying to grab the ring, but the whale, basically, wouldn’t let her. To them it was a play session, and she was in the water.” McGee and other Sealand staff tried to distract the whales by throwing them fish, hanging on the water with steel buckets and giving them hand and voice commands, but nothing succeeded. “Byrne came up screaming one more time and then, as the whale swam round and round the pool with Byrne in its mouth, she finally drowned. It was several hours before her body could be recovered.” (LALATE) 

Tilikum had been kept in captivity for eight years before he attacked Byrne. Sealand sold Tilikum to Seaworld in Orlando, Florida where he was again kept in captivity. While at Seaworld, Tilikum attacked two more people, Daniel P Dukes and Dawn Brancheau. Although Tilikum is not the only killer whale to attack people, he is the only killer whale to have killed three people. Seaworld knew that Tilikum was dangerous and will attack people. Sealand claimed that this was an accident that they did not see coming. But, many warning signs were seen by some trainers that Tilikum was dangerous. The roommate situation, the length of captivity that he was in, and many more. Tilikum died in January of 2016 in Seaworld. Tilikum deserved to be outside in the wild, not in captivity. Tilikum would not have attacked Byrne, Dukes, or Brancheau if he was kept out in the wild and not treated like a toy at Sealand or Seaworld.

Something that people can do is gain knowledge about what Seaworld is doing to their animals. Seaworld does not speak about any controversies or scandals they have had in the past and the present. More schools should educate their students on what is happening in the park. Classes you can do this in are Marine Biology, Biology, AP Language, Environmental Science, and more. The more the younger generation knows about this, the better. This means less people will be coming to Seaworld which means Seaworld will eventually close and they will release the whales into the wild, where they belong.Students should not just learn about them and not do anything. Students should go out into the world and do something about whale captivity. 


                                                      Work Cited
Byrnes, AnnMarie. “AP ENGLISH LANGUAGE  & COMPOSITION.” Google Classroom,
Cowperthwaite, Gabriela, director. Blackfish. CNN Films, 2013.
Kuo, Vivian. “Orca Trainer Saw Best of Keiko, Worst of Tilikum.” CNN, Cable News Network, 28   Oct. 2013,
Lalate. “Keltie Byrne and Tillikum!” LALATE, 24 Feb. 2010,
“Over 30 Years and Three Deaths: Tilikum's Tragic Story.” SeaWorld of Hurt,
Project , The Orca. “Keltie Byrne Coroner Report.”
Zimmermann, Tim. “Blood in the Water.” Outside Online, 15 July 2011,
Zimmermann, Tim. “The Killer in the Pool: A Story That Started a Movement.” Outside Online,
18 July 2017,

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