Tilikum, Star of ‘Blackfish,’ Dies in Captivity at SeaWorld

On Friday morning, SeaWorld Orlando announced the passing of Tilikum, the planet’s best-known killer whale.

Tilikum became a household name back in 2013 thanks to the popularity of the controversial documentary Blackfish. The film provided audiences with a critical look at SeaWorld and how miserable its orcas seem to be when kept in captivity.

Though experts will conduct a necropsy on Tilikum to determine an official cause of death, SeaWorld staff is fairly certain his passing is due to a bacterial lung infection he has fought for quite some time. SeaWorld staff had been aggressively trying to treat Tilikum’s deteriorating health since early 2016 to no avail.

Measuring over 22 feet long and weighing in at approximately 12,5000 pounds, Tilikum was the biggest orca in captivity until his death this morning. Though his exact age is unknown, Tilikum’s handlers estimated him to be about 36-years-old.

“While today is a difficult day for the SeaWorld family, it’s important to remember that Tilikum lived a long and enriching life while at SeaWorld and inspired millions of people to care about this amazing species,” reads a statement released by SeaWorld.

On the one hand, at 36, Tilikum lived longer than most male orcas held in captivity. On the other hand, orcas tend to live significantly longer in the wild, so he still arguably died prematurely due to being confined to a small habitat.

Death has been an unfortunate part of Tilikum’s legacy. In three separate incidents in 1991, 1999 and 2010, the orca was deemed responsible for the deaths of three humans. Although it is highly uncommon for “killer” whales to actually kill humans, many believe that Tilikum was lashing out against his captors.

Despite having a potentially “villainous” background, Tilikum became a sympathetic figure to audiences of Blackfish.

“I think that’s the most amazing thing that comes out of Tilikum’s story,” said Tim Zimmerman, one of Blackfish‘s producers. “He killed three human beings, and yet when you learn about his life story, he does become the victim and you do sympathize with him.”

As this informative timeline details, SeaWorld faced a number of consequences after the release of the documentary. In addition to being fined for safety violations, Sea World saw its profits, attendance and stock price take a major dive.

Activists have been pushing for the release of all of SeaWorld’s captive whales, Tilikum included, but the company insisted that its killer whales would be unable to survive in the wild after being held in captivity for so long.

However, SeaWorld pledged that its current crop of killer whales would be its last generation of the creatures. The company ended its whale-breeding program and had previously stopped capturing whales from the wilds decades ago.

In that sense, Tilikum’s tragic legacy has transformed into something more positive. His story has inspired change that will spare other orcas from suffering a similar fate. It’s just a shame that Tilikum didn’t survive long enough to benefit from some of these changes.

While SeaWorld has voluntarily made these concessions in the face of public pressure, there are currently no laws in the United States preventing another company from holding killer whales in captivity. If you agree that Congress should pass legislation to put a permanent end to this cruel practice, please sign and share this Care2 petition.

Photo Credit: Christian Benseler

242 comments

Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for posting.

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Chun Lai T
Chun Lai Tabout a year ago

tks

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Misss D
Misss Rabout a year ago

Am I the only person who can only see a question mark as a percentage sign followed by 3F on this thread?

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Misss D
Misss Rabout a year ago

'A long and enriching life?' Who are they taking Truth lessons from? Trump?

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

Bastards, I think SeaWorld will go broke soon, I hope so!

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Chen Boon Fook
Chen Boon Fookabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

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Leong S
Leong Sabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

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Petra Demmers
Petra Demmersabout a year ago

This is heartbreaking! Whales and Dolphins shouldn't be kept in captivity!!! Petition signed.

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Siyus C
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Siyus C
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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