Tilikum, the star of the groundbreaking documentary BlackFish, has died.
SeaWorld Orlando announced the death of the famous killer whale today. He died early this morning, surrounded by trainers and veterinarians. Tilikum had been seriously ill with a persistent bacterial lung infection since March 2016. Seaworld were quick to highlight the suspected bacteria can be found in water of both wild and captive habitats.
He died at approximately age 36. Male orcas typically live for around 30 years in the wild, but can live as long as 60 years, according to the NOAA.
Tilikum was born sometime around 1981 and captured two years later in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland. After spending some time an aquarium in Canada, he was sold to SeaWorld in 1991. During his time there, he was the father to 21 calves.
“Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired,” President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby said in a statement. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”
Tilikum became a household name after being a major part of the feature-length 2013 documentary Blackfish. The award-winning film concerned the practices of SeaWorld and highlighted the damaging consequences of holding orcas in captivity.
As explained in the documentary, Tilikum was involved in the death of three people while in captivity. One of which was experienced SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau during a live orca show performance. It also showed he was subject to aggression from fellow captive orcas and highlighted the general stress these intelligent animals experience when held in captivity.
The film played an indispensable role in shifting popular opinion away from keeping killer whales in captivity. This sentiment snowballed, eventually leading to SeaWorld ending all their captive orca breeding programs and ending their live orca shows.