The 2013 documentary Blackfish represented a sea change for SeaWorld, unleashing as it did a wave of protests and public outcry over the amusement park’s treatment of both killer whales and the park employees who dealt with them. Most famously, the killer whale Tilikum killed three people over his lifetime, one of them before arriving at Sea World and two after — including trainer Dawn Brancheau. In that tragic case, the whale refused to let go of her lifeless body and trainers had to pry open his mouth. His mate Kasatka also refused to let go of a trainer during a San Diego show — though the man was eventually able to escape after twice being dragged and held underwater by his ankle.
The publicity was bad enough to cause the park to shift its focus to more conventional amusement park attractions like roller coasters. But alarmingly, its newest coaster, Tidal Twister, shut down just two weeks after its opening. And now, two separate incidents in December have had visitors thinking back on Tilikum’s ominous refusal to let go. On December 1, more than 30 guests were released from the coaster’s grip by the San Diego Fire Department. And on December 27, the Department was called again to free two more guests, a process that took more than an hour, according to reports.
SeaWorld officials were quick to dismiss the possibility of a connection, but admitted that the sea for which they are named is a largely unexplored abyss harboring utter darkness, deadly cold, and undreamed-of horrors — so who knows?