go to content

SeaWorld's Orca Tilikum Has Died And People Have Strong Feelings About It

Many believe Tilikum's death means he is "finally free."

Posted on

SeaWorld on Friday announced the death of one of its most (in)famous orcas, Tilikum, who was involved in the deaths of two trainers and a trespasser. He later became the subject of the documentary Blackfish.

We’re saddened to announce the passing of Tilikum, a beloved member of the SeaWorld family for 25 years.… https://t.co/1H94iuJkAD

SeaWorld broke the news in a statement on its website, where it explained Tilikum was suffering from a bacterial lung infection.

The company is awaiting a necropsy to be completed so an official cause of death has not yet been determined.

Tilikum has been at SeaWorld Orlando since 1992 and became a controversial image of orca captivity — explored heavily in the award-winning 2013 documentary Blackfish.

In 2010, the orca made headlines worldwide after killing trainer Dawn Brancheau during a live audience show. Tilikum was previously involved in the deaths of another trainer and a man who trespassed on the property after hours.

On its blog "SeaWorld Cares" the company addressed Tilikum's ties to Brancheau's death and the surrounding controversy.

seaworldcares.com

"Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau," the company wrote.

"While we all experienced profound sadness about that loss, we continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible, each and every day, from the country’s leading experts in marine mammals," it added.

"It’s important to remember that Tilikum lived a long and enriching life while at SeaWorld."

People were deeply saddened by the news — and said his death meant he was finally "free."

Rest in peace Tilikum. Free at last 💙 #BornFree #EmptyTheTanks

There has never been an animal that has fascinated me more than an orca, I love you #Tilikum. I'm so glad you're finally free..

Swim Free #Tilikum No longer a slave to #seaword - hoping you get to blow rainbows in your afterlife 😢

Many did not hold back and voiced a renewed frustration with the park. And responded directly to it.

@SeaWorld "Passing", aka tortured to death over 2 and a half decades.

@SeaWorld i wonder why a creature that belongs in the ocean 'passed away' after being forced to perform for peoples entertainment

@SeaWorld maybe we should stop driving animals insane and to their early graves by not keeping them in ridiculously small enclosures

People speculated that Tilikum could have lived longer had he not been in captivity most of his life.

@SeaWorld Would still be alive if it wasn't in slavery all its life.

@SeaWorld he could have lived years longer. I am disgusted

@CoastinEast @SeaWorld he died of a bacterial infection found in zoo captivity. He was 32, in the wild Killer Whales can live up to 100.

In a brief Q&A portion at the end of its blog, SeaWorld said it will continue to host its live audience orca shows, as well as introduce new ones.


Will the killer whale shows stop?

The One Ocean show at SeaWorld Orlando will continue as scheduled. SeaWorld announced in March 2016 that it was introducing new and inspiring orca encounters. Learn more by visiting SeaWorldCares.com/Future.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to SeaWorld for comment.

Tanya Chen is a social news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in New York.

Contact Tanya Chen at tanya.chen@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.