SeaWorld’s famous orca, Tilikum, dies

Tilikum spent 25 years of his life held captive at SeaWorld and is now dead. SeaWorld called Tilikum “a beloved member of the SeaWorld family” in a tweet on Friday announcing the famous orca’s death.

Tilikum was a special attraction for visitors who came from every corner of the world to see him perform tricks. He became infamous after killing two trainers and a trespasser, and later as the star of the documentary Blackfish. In a statement SeaWorld wrote:

The SeaWorld family is deeply saddened to announce that one of its most well-known orcas, Tilikum, has passed away. Tilikum passed away early this morning, January 6, surrounded by the trainers, care staff and veterinarians that provided him around-the-clock world-class care.Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues. While the official cause of death will not be determined until the necropsy is completed, the SeaWorld veterinarians were treating a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection. The suspected bacteria is part of a group of bacteria that is found in water and soil both in wild habitats and zoological settings.

Blackfish highlighted many of the perils of holding orcas in such a confined space when they are removed from their natural habitat. Many of Tilikum’s health issues were said to be directly related to him being removed from the wild. The statement continues:

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.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.“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 President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.

Tilikum is believed to be about 36 years old. No cause of death has been reported.

Although some are saddened by the news, others expressed that Tilikum was finally free. “Rest in peace Tilikum. Free at last #BornFree#EmptyTheTanks,” one Twitter user wrote. “Swim Free #Tilikum No longer a slave to #seaword – hoping you get to blow rainbows in your afterlife,” wrote another. Others pulled no punches with their frustrations with the theme park holding orcas captive.

“@SeaWorld i wonder why a creature that belongs in the ocean ‘passed away’ after being forced to perform for peoples entertainment,” wrote one user. “@SeaWorld “Passing”, aka tortured to death over 2 and a half decades,” wrote another.

It’s true. Removing animals from the wild to be held captive in small enclosures for human’s entertainment is more than just an animal rights issue. It’s morally wrong.

RIP Tilikum. Now is a good time as any to go watch Blackfish on YouTube if you haven’t. Oh, just in case you were thinking about the three people Tilikum killed, orcas (or “killer whales” as they’re oftentimes called) have no record of killing/attacking humans when they’re in the wild. All the more reason to leave them in the wild where they belong.