Famed Orca Dies as SeaWorld Ends Killer Whale Shows

SeaWorld veterinarians had been treating the whale for "a persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection", but the cause of death will not be officially determined until a necropsy is performed, the theme park wrote.

Tilikum is also credited with sparking an worldwide ethics and animal-rights conversation about keeping massive killer whales in captivity.

Tilikum and the three passing he was included in enlivened the 2013 narrative "Blackfish", which investigated contentions about keeping executioner whales in bondage.

The park has 11 orcas.

Soon after Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld in the USA state of Florida where, on July 6, 1999, he was linked to a second death. The constant stress and deprivation of captivity drove him to kill three humans - including trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 - and to wear his teeth down to nubs by chewing on the underwater bars of his prison.

SeaWorld President and CEO Joel Manby 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".

PETA said SeaWorld had not gone far enough. "You have to look at it from the perspective that if these animals weren't in captivity to begin with, would we have cared so much about them as we do now?"

Tilikum was kept in a tank at a marine zoo in Reykjavík, Iceland, for a year before being purchased by Sealand of the Pacific, a marine park in British Columbia. The black-and- white five-tonne bull orca was the largest killer whale in captivity.

Only days after it was announced that the oldest-known killer whale in the wild, Granny, had died, one of SeaWorld's main whale attractions, Tilikum, has also passed on. A brief timeframe later, Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld in Florida a brief timeframe later, where in 1999, an exposed man who had evaded security and sneaked into SeaWorld around evening time was discovered dead the following morning hung over Tilikum in a reproducing tank. The Orlando-based water park operator responded to the film by calling it false, misleading and "emotionally manipulative" propaganda.

In that sense, Tilikum's tragic legacy has transformed into something more positive. Last year, SeaWorld Entertainment announced that it would end its orca breeding programme and that it would no longer put on shows featuring killer whales.

SeaWorld said the approximately 36-year-old killer whale had spent years with the company.

Other whales remain at the water park.

"That human experience isn't likely to be replaced", Stafford said.

The whale started a national dialog about keeping killer whales in bondage when he slaughtered his mentor, Dawn Brancheau, in 2010.

  • Rogelio Becker