(ANIMAL NEWS/SEAWORLD) SeaWorld’s main breeding whale, Tilikum, has sadly passed away at 36 years old after suffering from an ongoing bacterial lung infection. While male orcas have an average life span of 50 to 60 years in the wild, Tili’s lifespan was cut nearly in half.

After being involved in the deaths of three people (two trainers and one trespasser) at SeaWorld–including Dawn Brancheau in 2010, Tilly became the subject of the influential documentary Blackfish, rendering him the most (in)famous orca in the world.

A prolific breeder, he sired more than 20 calves and was at the center of a controversial orca breeding program, which SeaWorld ended last year after receiving immense public backlash over Tilly’s story.

Tim Zimmerman, a producer of Blackfish, sums it up perfectly:

“I think that’s the most amazing thing that comes out of Tilikum’s story…He killed three human beings. And yet when you learn about his life story, he does become the victim and you do sympathize with him.”

SeaWorld now has 22 orcas reamining at its three facilities–making this the last generation of killer whales held in captivity at its parks. However, many activivists believe the fight isn’t over yet, and are urging SeaWorld to open their tanks to ocean sanctuaries.

Continue reading for more on the circumstances of Tilikum’s death, and learn how his story has forever changed the narrative surrounding aggressive behavior by captive orcas. — Global Animal

Killer whale Tilikum watches as SeaWorld Orlando trainers take a break during a training session at the theme park’s Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on March 7, 2011. Photo credit: msnbc.msn.com

New York Times, Christine Hauser

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 a controversial orca breeding program, which 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.

More New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/science/tilikum-dead-seaworld-whale-blackfish.html

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