SeaWorld have announced that Tilikum, the orca who featured prominently in controversial documentary Blackfish, has died. Tilikum was SeaWorld’s most prolific male orca, fathering 14 babies in his 23 years at SeaWorld Orlando.
SeaWorld said in a statement to CBS News that Tilikum died on Friday. In it, the company said:
“The SeaWorld family is deeply saddened to announce that one of its most well-known orcas, Tilikum, has passed away. Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues.”
Let’s not forget that in the wild, the average lifespan of a male orca is between 50 to 60 years, and the oldest known orca is at least 103 years old. Tilikum was thought to have been approximately 36 years old.
“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.
“Tilikum’s veterinarians and caretakers delivered various treatment regimens over the course of this illness, which consisted of, among other things, combinations of anti-inflammatories, anti-bacterials, anti-nausea medications, hydration therapy and aerosolized antimicrobial therapy.”
President and CEO of SeaWorld, Joel Manby, said his “heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family,” and that “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.”
Want to know more about Tilikum and the life he led in captivity? Simply head on over to the next page for the full picture.
In 2013, the documentary Blackfish was released, detailing the cruel and unnatural treatment that SeaWorld’s orcas endure. Forced to live in tanks millions of times smaller than their natural habitat, with their children taken from them at an early age, it’s no wonder these animals often turn psychotic.
Which is exactly what happened when Tilikum was living at his first home, Sealand, in the early ’90s. The tanks at Sealand, which has since been shut down, were incredibly small. Tilikum was often found with bite marks and bloody scars from where the two females in his tank would bite him.
It isn’t difficult to imagine, then, that Tilikum and two female orcas were responsible for the death of a part-time trainer who slipped and fell into their pool in 1992. The orcas dragged the trainer under the water, and she eventually drowned.
Tragically, the incident wasn’t the last of Tilikum’s murderous behaviour. In 1999, a man snuck into SeaWorld in the middle of the night and was found dead the next morning, draped over Tilikum in the back of Shamu Stadium. He’d suffered severe trauma all over his body, including vicious bites to the genitals.
Then, in 2010, Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by dragging her under the water by her arm and holding her there until she died. An autopsy report said Brancheau drowned, but also suffered severe trauma, including multiple fractures.
Blackfish revealed how Brancheau’s death was largely played down by SeaWorld, who were quick to blame the trainer for her own death. The company also appears to have completely wiped Tilikum’s two other deaths from their memory. According to them, Tilikum was still fit to live in the park, and continue to make SeaWorld millions of dollars.
However, with the release of Blackfish in 2013, attitudes towards the orca show gradually began to shift. In September 2016, governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that ended SeaWorld’s orca breeding and performances in California. The bill outlaws corporations and individuals from breeding orcas in captivity. Those who break the law will be fined a whopping $100,000.
Tilikum isn’t the only orca who’s lived their life suffering in captivity. Morgan, an orca at Spanish theme park Loro Parque, was recently captured apparently trying to beach herself by the side of her tank.