The bull orca featured in the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” has died, SeaWorld announced Friday.
Tilikum, who was also known as Tilly, died early Friday after suffering “some very serious and chronic health issues he was not able to recover from,” the Orlando, Florida, park said in a statement. Tilly was believed to be around 36 years old.
An official cause of death will not be known until a necropsy is complete, but SeaWorld veterinarians had been treating him for an ongoing lung infection.
“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,” SeaWorld president and CEO Joel Manby said. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”
The killer whale was captured, not by SeaWorld, in 1983 near Reykjavík, Iceland, and resided in British Columbia’s defunct Sealand of the Pacific. He was moved to SeaWorld Orlando in 1991.
There are 22 orcas remaining at SeaWorlds in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego. “The rest of the whale group is doing well and are behaving normally,” the park said, adding that “it is not uncommon.”
‘BLACKFISH’ & CAPTIVITY CONTROVERSY
Tilikum was the central focus of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s 2013 documentary, “Blackfish,” which shed light on the debate over killer whales in captivity.
The orcawas involved in the death of three people during his years in captivity. The first was 21-year-old marine biology student and competitive swimmer Keltie Byrne, who fell into a pool housing Tilikum and two other orcas at Sealand in 1991. The three whales kept her from surfacing, and Byrne drowned while other trainers and park visitors watched.
The second death occurred in 1999, when Daniel P. Dukes, 27, was found dead on Tilikum’s back. He had hid in SeaWorld after it closed the previous day and entered the whale tank. His cause of death was drowning, and he had various wounds all over his body.
In 2010, Tilikum killed his 40-year-old trainer, Dawn Brancheau, who had just finished a “Dine with Shamu” show with him. She was pulled into the water and died by drowning and blunt-force trauma.
“Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau,” SeaWorld said. “While we all experienced profound sadness about that loss, we continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible, each and every day, from the country’s leading experts in marine mammals.”