SeaWorld’s infamous orca featured in ‘Blackfish’ documentary dies

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Tilikum, SeaWorld’s most infamous orcas has died, the company said in a statement Friday.

“It is with a heavy heart that we share the sad news of the passing of Tilikum, one of SeaWorld Orlando’s most well-known orcas,” SeaWorld said in a Facebook post. “Tilikum has been a beloved member of the SeaWorld Family for 25 years and has touched the lives of millions. He will be missed greatly by the SeaWorld family, as well as the many people he inspired.”

Tilikum died early Friday, SeaWorld said. The company did not release a cause of death, but stated the killer whale had a “persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection.”

Tilikum made headlines after the documentary "Blackfish" aired in 2013, bringing focus on the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau after alleging the whale killed the trainer because of his life in captivity.

Brancheau was pulled by the mammal into the enclosure during a “Dine with Shamu” show. An autopsy report said the trainer suffered severe trauma but died from drowning.

"Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau," The company 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."

The documentary, and the controversy surrounding it, led to the eventual end of killer whale shows at SeaWorld parks in the United States. The San Diego park will end its show permanently Sunday.

In March, the company ended its orca breeding program and captivity, but the park will continue to house its current killer whales to educate guests through orca encounters. The current orca generation will be the last under human care, SeaWorld said. SeaWorld continues to care for 22 orcas between its three parks. 

Tilikum had been with SeaWorld for 25 years and was estimated to be 36 years old.

“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,” President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby said. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family."

Categories: Local San Diego News