Tilikum, SeaWorld orca that killed trainer, dies

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Tilikum, the SeaWorld orca that killed a trainer in 2010 and was profiled in ‘Blackfish’ documentary, has died.

Officials said Tilikum died Friday morning in Orlando surrounded by trainers, care staff and veterinarians.

“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,” SeaWorld posted on their website Friday.

SeaWorld veterinarians were treating Tilikum for a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection.

Tilikum made headlines in 2010 when he attacked and drowned Dawn Brancheau, a veteran trainer at Orlando’s SeaWorld, in front of a horrified audience.

“Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau.  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,” SeaWorld posted on their website.

Tilikum was also the center of the 2013 CNN documentary “Blackfish,” which gave a disturbing portrayal of the captivity of the killer whales in SeaWorld, which in response called the film false, misleading and “emotionally manipulative” propaganda.

The controversy energized activists on both sides nationwide. In 2015, the California Coastal Commission approved SeaWorld’s $100 million plan to double the size of its killer whale habitat in San Diego, but the approval meant the park now cannot breed any of the 11 killer whales in captivity in California.

Without being able to breed the animals, the SeaWorld park in San Diego later announced it will end its show of killer whales doing tricks on January 8, 2017. Instead, the park will create a new, more “natural” show of the animals.

A cause of death is yet to be determined and a necropsy is planned. Tilikum is believed to be about 36 years old.