Tilikum, the killer whale that was profiled in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, has died.
SeaWorld announced the news in an online statement, saying that a cause of death had yet to be determined, but Tilikum, who was believed to be about 36 years old, had been suffering from a persistent bacterial lung infection.
In 2010, Tilikum sparked a nationwide conversation about the ethics of keeping orcas in captivity after he killed SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau, pulling her into the pool after an orca show. He was also involved in the 1991 death of a trainer at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada and the 1999 death of a man who apparently sneaked into SeaWorld.
Tilikum was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983, when he was 2 years old, and brought to Sealand of the Pacific. He came to SeaWorld in 1992, and in 2013, he was the subject of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish, which examined the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity.
“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 in a statement. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”
In all, SeaWorld now has 22 orcas at its parks in Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego. In 2015, the company announced that it would phase out its orca show in San Diego, and in March of last year, SeaWorld ended its captive breeding of orcas. As a result, SeaWorld’s current killer whales will be the last generation to live in SeaWorld facilities.
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