(SEAWORLD/KILLER WHALES) SeaWorld‘s most (in)famous killer whale Tilikum may be close to dying. The captive orca‘s health is quickly dwindling as he battles an incurable bacterial infection in his lungs.

Recognized by his collapsed dorsal fin, the bull orca affectionately called “Tili” is one of the park’s most prolific breeders, siring 21 calves in captivity. However, Tilikum didn’t become a household name until the 2013 release of Blackfish, which focused on the marine park’s treatment of its killer whales as well as the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

A victim of captivity, the 35-year-old orca has been owned by SeaWorld for more than two decades and is responsible for three human deaths, including Brancheau.

While male orcas have an average life span of 50 to 60 years in the wild, Tilikum’s life expectancy may be cut nearly in half. Read on to learn more about Tili’s condition and SeaWorld’s plans. — Global Animal

Tilikum one of the orcas at SeaWorld sits in captivity.
Tilikum has been involved with the deaths of three people including two trainers and a park attendee. Photo Credit: Cowperthwaite/Magnolia Pictures

ABC News, Emily Shapiro

The health of SeaWorld’s killer whale Tilikum is deteriorating, the amusement park said, explaining that the aging whale has become increasingly lethargic.

Tilikum was the focus of the “Blackfish” documentary and has been connected to the deaths of three people.

He’s now being treated for what veterinary and animal care teams believe is a bacterial infection in his lungs, but “the suspected bacteria is very resistant to treatment and a cure for his illness has not been found,” SeaWorld said in a statement today.

The 34-year-old whale is receiving “the best care available” but “like all aging animals, he battles chronic health issues that are taking a greater toll as he ages,” SeaWorld said.

“Veterinarians are focused on managing his illness in a way that makes him comfortable and creates an enriching life,” SeaWorld said, explaining that his condition may continue to fluctuate.

“Since Tilikum became a part of SeaWorld’s family 23 years ago, he has received the best in marine mammal health care and life enrichment available for killer whales — including a focus on his physical health, mental engagement and social activity with other whales,” SeaWorld said.

SeaWorld San Diego houses 10 orca whales in captivity. Photo credit: Barcroft/Fame Pictures
Photo credit: Barcroft/Fame Pictures

One of the deaths connected to Tilikum was in 2010, when the 12,000-pound, 22-foot animal pulled SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau into the water and killed her.

The documentary “Blackfish” was released in 2013, examining how Tilikum and Brancheau arrived at that fateful moment. The documentary also raised the question of whether killer whales should be held in captivity.

According to SeaWorld, the lifespan of killer whales is unclear because only a small percentage of them near Washington, British Columbia and Alaska have been studied. SeaWorld says, in the Pacific Northwest and in Southeastern Alaska, male killer whales live around 19 to 30 years.

More ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/health-tilikum-killer-whale-deteriorating-seaworld/story?id=37490004

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