Tilikum was the definition of a killer whale.
In what stands as the most newsworthy celebrity animal death since Harambe was tragically shot and killed last May, it has been reported that the orca known as Tilikum has died. He is famous for having killed three humans and for being the subject of the popular 2013 documentary “Blackfish.”
Born in the chilly waters of Iceland in 1981, he was captured before his 2nd birthday. After spending about a year in a tank in an Icelandic zoo, he was transferred to the now-obsolete Sealand of the Pacific animal theme park in British Columbia before his 2nd birthday. In 1992, he was moved to the much larger SeaWorld in Orlando, where he was held captive for the remainder of his life.
Tilikum took his first victim, 21-year-old marine biology student Keltie Byrne, while at Sealand, a year before he was taken to SeaWorld. Two other orcas conspired with him in the slaying.
The next killing occurred in the Summer of ’99. A man named Daniel Dukes had stayed in SeaWorld after the park closed, and he was found dead the following day, sprawled onto Tilikum’s back, behind his dorsal fin. Tilikum is noted for having had a collapsed dorsal fin, which was likely a consequence of living in captivity.
Tilikum took his third and final casualty in 2010, as an attack of trainer Dawn Brancheau ensued during a post-show rubdown. The cause of death was ruled to be “drowning and traumatic injuries.”
A total of four people have been killed by captive orcas. Many more have been seriously injured.
Adversaries of SeaWorld and of the capturing of wild orcas believe that holding massive creatures like Tilikum in captivity is what causes them to turn violent.
In announcing his death this morning, SeaWorld said that it was “deeply saddened” to lose Tilikum, who had been living at the park 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,” read the statement.
Tilikum is survived by 10 of the 21 calves he fathered during his 36 years of life.