According to a press release from SeaWorld, Tilikum, one of the park’s most well-known and controversial killer whales died early this morning. Tilikum had been facing some health issues since early last year, while the cause of death is not yet known, it’s likely related to the baterial lung infection he had been receiving treatment for.
At the age of 35, Tilikum lived a long life and entertained and inspired millions to learn more about Orcas, their endangered habitats, and conservation in general. However, Tilikum’s life in captivity and his involvement in three deaths was also controversial.
The death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was drowned when Tilikum grabbed and wouldn’t release her, increased the pressure on SeaWorld to make changes to its Killer Whale exhibits and shows. In the last year SeaWorld announced that it will make major changes to its killer whale programs, including stopping its breeding program changing the focus of its Killer Whale shows in the parks.
Tikikum was captured in 1983 by an Icelandic company and then transfered to Sealand – a park in British Columnbia, Canada. Sealand closed in 1992 and SeaWorld Orlando acquired him at that point. In his life, Tilikum sired 21 offspring. His named comes from the Chinook language of the Pacific Northwest and means “Friends, Nation, Common People or Tribe.”
Tilikum was often associated with the SeaWorld mascot Shamu. Our condolences to the team of trainers and all the staff at SeaWorld on this loss.
(Photo courtesy Milan Boers via Flickr cc-by-2.0 license)