SeaWorld Orlando’s most famous killer whale, Tilikum, who inspired the documentary Blackfish, has died, the theme park announced in a statement on its website Friday, January 6. He was estimated to be about 36 years old.
“Tilikum passed away early this morning, January 6, surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care,” the statement said. “Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues. While the official cause of death will not be determined until the necropsy is completed, the SeaWorld veterinarians were treating a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection. The suspected bacteria is part of a group of bacteria that is found in water and soil both in wild habitats and zoological settings.”
The 12,500-pound mammal, nicknamed “Tili,” was captured near Iceland in 1983 at age 2 and has lived in captivity for more than 33 years. He came to SeaWorld about 25 years ago from Canada’s Sealand of the Pacific park.
The whale made headlines in February 2010 when he pulled SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau into the pool and killed her during a show despite the staff’s best efforts to save her. Tilikum was also involved in two other deaths: Keltie Byrne, a trainer at Sealand of the Pacific, in 1991, and Daniel Dukes, a trespasser who entered the whale’s tank at SeaWorld after-hours, in 1999. The incidents inspired the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which gave a deeper look into the problems of whales in captivity.
In March, SeaWorld announced that it will end its orca breeding program, and the current killer whales at SeaWorld will be the last generation for the park.
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