Tilikum the orca has died, SeaWorld says

Posted at 10:46 AM, Jan 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-06 12:36:48-05
Tilikum the orca, pictured in the foreground (SeaWorld via Twitter)

Tilikum the orca, pictured in the foreground (SeaWorld via Twitter)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Tilikum, an orca that has been involved in the deaths of three people and the subject of the documentary “Blackfish,” has died in captivity. He was estimated to be about 36 years old.

“We’re saddened to announce the passing of Tilikum, a beloved member of the SeaWorld family for 25 years,” SeaWorld tweeted Friday.

SeaWorld said the orca faced “some very serious and chronic health issues that he was not able to recover from.”

In March 2016, SeaWorld announced that the orca may be “beginning to deteriorate,” citing a yet-incurable bacterial infection in his lungs as the cause.

Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three people, including SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

At 12,000 pounds, he was considered to be the “largest marine mammal living in a zoological park,” according to SeaWorld.

He was captured off the coast of Iceland as a calf and lived at multiple enclosures during his lifetime. He came to SeaWorld in 1991 from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada and has sired 21 calves in captivity, the company said.

The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” profiled Tilikum’s life and inspired backlash against SeaWorld, which called the film false, misleading and “emotionally manipulative” propaganda.

Critics said Tilikum’s circumstances in captivity led him to suffer “immensely by confining him to a small concrete tank for decades, causing him to succumb to mental illness that has resulted in aggression…”

“It’s time for SeaWorld to move the orcas to sanctuaries, where they could enjoy a more natural life,” PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk said last year when news broke of Tilikum’s illness.

With Tilikum’s passing, there are 22 orcas left at SeaWorld’s three locations in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego.

The orcas currently in SeaWorld’s care will be the last generation of the mammals enclosed at the water parks, the company said last year.

SeaWorld said it will end its breeding program and introduce new “natural orca encounters” instead of familiar theatrical shows starring sea mammals.

CNN contributed to this report.