Tilikum, an Orca whale who gained notoriety after he was profiled in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, has died, SeaWorld announced on Friday. The Orca, who was estimated to have been 36 years old when he died, was involved in the deaths of three people over his lifetime, and his story helped pressure SeaWorld into ending its Orca shows.
According to SeaWorld, Tilikum died because of some “very serious health issues” that came about due to his age. He died early on Friday at SeaWorld’s Orlando location, where he had lived for the past 25 years, surrounded by trainers and veterinarians. In a release, SeaWorld said the death likely had something to do with “a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection” that had been caused by a naturally occurring bacteria.
“While we all experienced profound sadness about that loss, we continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible, each and every day, from the county’s leading experts in marine mammals,” the company said in a statement.
“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,” said SeaWorld’s President and CEO Joel Manby.
As Blackfish laid out, Tilikum was involved in the deaths of three people. In 1992, Tilikum and two other Orcas at a Canadian aquarium killed a marine biology student. In 1999, after Tilikum had been moved to SeaWorld, staffers found a visitor to the park who had drowned, somehow, in his tank. Tilikum’s most infamous incident was in 2010, when he brutally killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau following a show. Blackfish, and many other animal rights activists, have used Tilikum as an example of why Orcas shouldn’t be kept in captivity.
SeaWorld says that, at 36, Tilikum lived about as long as an average Orca in the wild. Those figures are disputed, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does say that males typically live for around 30 years, but have been known to live up to 60 years. Females, meanwhile, can reach up to 100 years of age, though 50 years is much more common.
Tilikum was caught in the wild (though not, as SeaWorld is quick to note, by SeaWorld itself), but the company put a stop to its captive breeding program as well. The age of Orcas at SeaWorld is coming to an end.
Photos via Getty Images / Gerardo Mora