Charles Darwin at a green chalkboard.

1999 Darwin Awards

Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool--by removing themselves from it in the most spectacular way possible.

Killer Whale Rodeo
1999 Darwin Award Winner
Confirmed True by Darwin

(6 July 1999, Florida) A naked man was found dead on the back of a killer whale at Sea World in Orlando on Tuesday morning, a victim of drowning or hypothermia in the 55-degree water. "There were no obvious signs of trauma. He wasn't chewed or dismembered," the sheriff's office said. The body had scrapes on it, possibly signifying that the victim had been dragged along the bottom of the tank.

Is a man who swims with Orcas worthy of a Darwin Award? Insights into his bizarre history may help us decide.

He was identified as a marijuana-smoking drifter named Daniel. The South Carolina native carried a tattered Florida DMV card, and police traced the address on the card to a Hare Krishna temple in Miami.

Priest Paul Seaur provided insights into Daniel's month-long stay with the community of six worshippers. He had a great love of nature, writing in his journal and feeding wild birds in the temple garden. Daniel had difficulty adjusting to the religion's 4AM wake-up time, their dietary prohibitions, and their abstinence from liquor, drugs, sex, and gambling. He preferred to dodge work and meditate in the chapel listening to heavy metal music.

Daniel unexpectedly announced that he was taking a vow of silence, which puzzled the Hare Krishnas, since their religion does not urge its members to be silent. He left abruptly in the spring, saying, "I want to be free. I want to travel around."

Daniel left a string of petty offences throughout South Carolina, Washington, Texas and Florida. Just days before his death, he had completed a three day sentence to the Indian River County Jail for stealing a 3-Musketeers candy bar from 7-Eleven. He resumed his vow of silence in court. "The suspect could not speak," a Vero Beach officer reported, so instead he used paper and pen to deny the charge.

Three days later, our intrepid stoner gained admittance to SeaWorld and loitered near the whale pools until 10PM closing, evading the 24-hour security. After stripping to his bathing trunks, he scaled a 3-foot plexiglas barrier, crossed a short stone wall, and climbed into Tillikum's frigid enclosure using steps ringing the 80x100-foot pool. An employee spotted Daniel's nude form draped just below Tillikum's dorsal fin at 7:35AM. His swimming shorts were found elsewhere in the tank. Tillikum apparently tried to remove his shorts with his razor sharp teeth, the medical examiner said.

The nature lover left few clues about his state of mind when he decided to commune with a carnivore the size of a bus. A joint was found inside his pile of clothes, but no admission ticket to SeaWorld. Anonymous park workers made a surprise announcement that this was not the first time Daniel had communed with sea mammals. Two years ago, they recall that he jumped into the manatee tank, which is filled with warmer water and less offensive creatures.

Notes about Tillikum the killer whale:

The 8-year-old mammal is the largest killer whale in captivity, at 22 feet and 11,000 pounds. He was appraised at 1.5 million dollars when purchased by SeaWorld in 1991, where he joined 13 other killer whales. He was considered dangerous, as he was never trained for human contact. Biologists say he probably played with Daniel like a toy, without realizing that he was a fragile human being.

This is not his first encounter with death. Tillikum and two other whales were involved in the drowning of a trainer in Victoria, Canada in 1991. Keltie Byrne fell into the whale tank at the SeaLand Marine Park and was dragged beneath the surface to her watery demise.

Tillikum is a fecund marine predator, and the sire of four calves born during his breeding stay in Florida.

In a comparison between Tillikum and Daniel, it's clear who is higher on the evolutionary scale. © 1994 - 2022
Submitted by:
Craig Hochman, John Thoimas, Peter Nevai,
John Ashley
, David Tschirhart
Reference: Sarasota Herald-Tribune, St. Petersburg (FL) Times,
Chicago Tribune, Lenny Savino, Orlando Sentinel, CNN

Trey and Shawn Kusek send this update: "Radio KBUS Texas reported that Daniel's family, out of contact with him for six yearsh, sued Sea World over his death, contending that they depict a KILLER whale as a cute cuddly animal, and did not take enough precations to keep Daniel out of the tank." Trey adds, "I figured you would be interested in the update as it kinda shows that stupidity is inherited."

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