Tilikum, the orca that inspired the documentary Blackfish, has died. The killer whale had been at the centre of the film, which criticised SeaWorld for its treatment of Tilikum and other orcas. He passed away on the morning of 6 January "surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians", SeaWorld said in a statement. Tilikum was thought to be around 36-years-old at the time, and had been at SeaWorld for 25 years.
Tilikum drew international attention after dragging a SeaWorld trainer to her death during a 2010 show in Orlando. He was involved in three deaths in total.
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Tilikum, the SeaWorld orca shown in Blackfish, has died
The first, in 1991, saw a trainer drowned by Tilikum and two other orcas after she slipped into a pool at Sealand of the Pacific. Then in 1999 at SeaWorld, a 27-year old man was found dead on Tilikum's back, after reportedly staying in the park after hours and sneaking into the pool. An autopsy showed that he drowned.
The third death was that of a 40-year-old trainer, Dawn Brancheau, who was drowned in front of a crowd during a post-show routine in 2010.
Blackfish, which was released in 2013, received widespread critical acclaim for its investigation into orcas in captivity – specifically Tilikum. Amid huge public attentions, profits at SeaWorld fell by $10million as visitor numbers decreased, and in March last the company announced it would end its orca breeding programme, and, eventually, shows involving killer whales.
The killer whale had been at SeaWorld 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," SeaWorld wrote in Friday's statement.
It continued: "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."