Quantcast

SeaWorld's Famous Whale and 'Blackfish' Star Is Dying

Animals

Tilikum, the killer whale at the center of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, is in deteriorating health. SeaWorld's teams are treating him for what they believe is a bacterial infection in his lungs, the company announced on its Facebook page Tuesday.

SeaWorld's most famous orca Tilikum is ailing, the company announced on Tuesday. Photo credit: Milan Boers/Creative Commons

"We are saddened to report that over the past few weeks, Tilikum's behavior has become increasingly lethargic, and the SeaWorld veterinary and animal care teams are concerned that his health is beginning to deteriorate," the company said.

The 35-year-old male orca is not responding to treatment and "a cure for his illness has not been found," SeaWorld said.

"Since Tilikum became a part of SeaWorld’s family 23 years ago, he has received the best in marine mammal health care and life enrichment available for killer whales—including a focus on his physical health, mental engagement and social activity with other whales," SeaWorld said. "Despite the best care available, like all aging animals, he battles chronic health issues that are taking a greater toll as he ages."

Tilikum, whose name means "friend" in Chinook, was captured from the wild in 1983 at the age of 2, according to Reuters. He came to SeaWorld 23 years ago from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada.

Average life expectancy for orcas in the wild is 30 to 50 years. Some males live 60 to 70 years, and females can live to be 80 to 100 years old. Life expectancy for killer whales in captivity is much shorter. The median survival rate for orcas in U.S. marine parks is just 12 years.

As America's most famous orca, Tilikum, has "shouldered a fraught history, emerging as the symbol of both orcas’ elegance and their capacity for violence," The Washington Post said.

Tilikum has fathered 21 offspring (1o of which are still alive today). But he's also been linked to three human deaths.

In 1991, while housed in poor conditions at Sealand, Tilikum and two females killed a 20-year-old, part-time trainer named Keltie Byrne after she slipped and fell into their tank.

“She tried to get back out and the other girl tried to pull her up, but the whale grabbed her back foot and pulled her under,” a witness told CNN in 1991. “And then the whales—they bounced her around the pool a whole bunch of times, and she was screaming for help.”

Byrne was the first trainer to be killed by orcas at a marine park. Sealand never recovered from the controversy, sold Tilikum and its other killer whales to SeaWorld and was forced to close.

Then in 1999, Tilikum appeared to strike again. Twenty-seven-year-old Daniel Dukes was found dead lying across Tilikum's back after Dukes snuck into the park at night.

And then, there was the most recent and well known death caused by Tilikum. In 2010, the male orca pulled a trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into the water and violently thrashed her around in front of an audience at SeaWorld Orlando. Brancheau was dead by the time SeaWorld employees reached her.

Tilikum was retired from doing shows for about a year, but was brought back for public performances in the spring of 2011.

Two years later Blackfish was released, documenting the plight of killer whales in captivity. The film has sparked a massive public outcry against keeping these large creatures in small tanks since in the wild they swim up to 100 miles per day.

SeaWorld condemned the documentary as “propaganda.” SeaWorld's stock has nosedived and ticket sales have declined sharply in the years since the film's release.

In October 2015, to the delight of animal activists, California banned captive breeding of orcas at SeaWorld. However, SeaWorld has remained mired in controversy, as the death of Dart, a male dolphin, brought the park's death toll to four large marine mammals in just four months.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Why Is Mine Waste Being Dumped Directly Into the Ocean?

Whale Found Dead With Small Pieces of Plastic Garbage in Its Stomach

Iceland’s Fin Whale Hunt Cancelled for 2016

Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet Saved by Sea Shepherd Crew

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

(L) 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle that is studded with glycoprotein tubercles.
(R) The measles virus pictured under a microscope. PHIL / CDC

The Pacific Island nation of Samoa declared a state of emergency this week, closed all of its schools and limited the number of public gatherings allowed after a measles outbreak has swept across the country of just 200,000 people, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less
Austin Nuñez is Chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, which joined with the Hopi and Pascua Yaqui Tribes to fight a proposed open-pit copper mine on sacred sites in Arizona. Mamta Popat

By Alison Cagle

Rising above the Arizona desert, the Santa Rita Mountains cradle 10,000 years of Indigenous history. The Tohono O'odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe, among numerous other tribes, have worshipped, foraged, hunted and laid their ancestors to rest in the mountains for generations.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
(L) Selma Three Stone Engagement Ring. (R) The Greener Diamond Farm Project. MiaDonna

By Bailey Hopp

If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.

Read More Show Less
The Navajo Nation has suffered from limited freshwater resources as a result of climate, insufficient infrastructure, and contamination. They collaborated with NASA to develop the Drought Severity Evaluation Tool. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Native Americans are disproportionately without access to clean water, according to a new report, "Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan," to be released this afternoon, which shows that more than two million Americans do not have access to access to running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater services.

Read More Show Less
Wild Exmoor ponies graze on a meadow in the Czech Republic. rapier / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Nanticha Ocharoenchai

In the Czech Republic, horses have become the knights in shining armor. A study published in the Journal for Nature Conservation suggests that returning feral horses to grasslands in Podyjí National Park could help boost the numbers of several threatened butterfly species.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Despite huge strides in improving the lives of children since 1989, many of the world's poorest are being left behind, the United Nations children's fund UNICEF warned Monday.

Read More Show Less
At least seven people have died in a Bangladesh pipeline explosion. Youtube screenshot

At least seven people were killed when a gas pipeline exploded in Bangladesh Sunday, and another 25 were injured, the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less
The Shell Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes, Washington. John Westrock / Flickr

The Washington Department of Ecology responded to an oil spill that took place Friday night when a Crowley Maritime Barge was transferring five million gallons of oil to the Shell Puget Sound Refinery, CNN reported.

Read More Show Less