Tilikum, the Controversial Orca from “Blackfish,” has Died

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Tilikum, nicknamed Tilly, was a bull orca. He was captured in Iceland in 1983 at Hafnarfjörður, near Reykjavík; after a year he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia. he was subsequently transferred in 1992 to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida.

Tilikum was involved in the death of three people: a trainer at the now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, a man trespassing on SeaWorld Orlando’s property, and a trainer at Orlando’s SeaWorld. Tilikum was heavily featured in CNN Films’ 2013 documentary Blackfish.

He sired 21 calves, of whom ten are still alive. In the Chinook Jargon of the Pacific Northwest, the name means “friends, relations, tribe, nation, common people”. SeaWorld announced in March 2016 Tilikum’s health was deteriorating, and it was thought he had a lung infection caused by a rare resistant bacterium. In May 2016, it was reported Tilikum’s health was improving. Seaworld announced Tilikum had died on January 6, 2017.

Tilikum measured 22.5 feet (6.9 m) long and weighed about 12,500 pounds (5,700 kg). His pectoral fins were 7 feet (2.1 m) long, his fluke curls under, and his 6.5-foot-tall (2.0 m) dorsal fin was collapsed completely to his left side. He was the largest orca in captivity until his death.

Tilikum had 21 offspring in captivity, 11 of which were still alive as of November 2013.

Tilikum was involved in three incidents leading to human deaths. Such orca attacks on humans are rare. As of 2013, only four humans have died due to interactions with an orca, and all such incidents happened with captive orcas.

First death
On February 20, 1991, Keltie Byrne, a 21-year-old marine biology student and competitive swimmer, slipped into the pool containing Tilikum, Haida II and Nootka IV while working as a part-time Sealand trainer. The three orcas submerged her, dragging her around the pool and preventing her from surfacing. At one point, she reached the side and tried to climb out, but as horrified visitors watched from the sidelines, the orcas pulled her screaming back into the pool. Other trainers responded to her screams, throwing her a life-ring, but the orcas kept her away from it. She surfaced three times screaming before drowning, and it was several hours before her body could be recovered from the pool.

Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida on January 9, 1992. Sealand of the Pacific closed soon afterward.

Second death
On July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old man, Daniel P. Dukes, was found dead over Tilikum’s back. Dukes had visited SeaWorld the previous day, stayed after the park closed, and evaded security to enter the orca tank unclothed. An autopsy found numerous wounds, contusions, and abrasions covering his body that were caused by Tilikum. The autopsy concluded that Dukes’ cause of death was drowning. The medical examiner reports that no drugs or alcohol were found in Dukes’ system.

Third death
On February 24, 2010, Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer. Brancheau was killed following a Dine with Shamu show. The veteran trainer was rubbing Tilikum as part of a post-show routine when the orca grabbed her by her ponytail or left arm, according to differing eye-witness reports, and pulled her into the water. Brancheau’s autopsy indicated death by drowning and blunt force trauma.

Tilikum, the captive orca who killed a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., in 2010 and later became the subject of the documentary “Blackfish,” died on Friday.

The whale had been suffering from a persistent infection from a bacteria found in wild habitats and natural settings, but the exact cause of death will be determined by a necropsy, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment said in a statement. The orca, a male estimated to be about 36 years old, had been kept by the organization for 25 years.

“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,” the statement said.

“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 the president of SeaWorld, Joel Manby.

Tilikum’s caretakers had said in March that the whale was afflicted with the infection that was likely to lead to his death. The whale was at the center of an orca breeding program that SeaWorld ended last year.

The company also ended its killer whale performances in San Diego, where state lawmakers had brought intense pressure on the company after the documentary’s release.

With the death of Tilikum, SeaWorld now holds 22 orcas at its three facilities in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego.

SeaWorld also noted that Tilikum was “inextricably connected” with the death of his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, in 2010. “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 SeaWorld statement said.

Tilikum bit down on the ponytail of Ms. Brancheau, his 40-year-old trainer, before dragging her underwater and killing her. After her death, SeaWorld conducted an extensive review that resulted in trainers further isolating themselves from the animals for safety.

In 2013, the documentary “Blackfish” examined Ms. Brancheau’s death by looking at the mental state of whales that are taken from their pods in the wild and raised at marine parks. But SeaWorld pushed back against the film’s claims that the whales in captivity suffer physical and mental distress because of confinement.

Tilikum has also been connected with the deaths of two other people: Keltie Byrne, a 21-year-old student and part-time trainer who slipped into a pool containing Tilikum and two other orcas in 1991, and Daniel P. Dukes, a 27-year-old man who slipped into SeaWorld after hours in 1999.

Mr. Dukes was found dead, draped over Tilikum’s back.

Tilikum came to SeaWorld in 1991 from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada, and the organization said it had not collected a whale from the wild in nearly 40 years.