Killer whale Tilikum, subject of ‘Blackfish’, dies at age 36

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Tilikum, the orca which made headlines when it killed its trainer during a show at SeaWorld Orlando and subsequently was the subject of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish”, has died after a lengthy illness, the park says.

SeaWorld Orlando said in a statement that Tilikum, whose nickname is Tilli, passed away on early Friday morning while surrounded by trainers, care staff and veterinarians. He is believed to have been 36 years old, of which he spent 25 years at SeaWorld.

“The SeaWorld family is deeply saddened to announce that one of its most well-known orcas, Tilikum, has passed away,” the park said in its statement. “Like all older animals, Tilikum had faced some very serious health issues.”

SeaWorld disclosed in March 2016 that Tilikum was severely ill, suffering from a “persistent and complicated” bacterial infection in the lungs. A necropsy is expected to be carried out to formally confirm his cause of death.

After being captured, Tilukum was first owned by “Sealand of the Pacific” in Canada where he and two other orcas killed a 21-year-old trainer in 1991. Tilukum was acquired by SeaWorld Orlando the next year and killed a 27-year-old visitor in 1999 after the man evaded security to enter the orca tank.

More than a decade later, in February 2010, Tilukum made international headlines when he killed 40-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau during a show witnessed by scores of guests. The death renewed controversy over the captivity of killer whales and led to the release of a documentary called “Blackfish” in 2013.

Overall attendance at SeaWorld parks fell in the wake of the documentary and SeaWorld San Diego announced in November 2015 that it would phase out its theatrical killer whale show from 2017. SeaWorld further announced last year that it will end its orca breeding program.

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