Speed Reads

A sad day

Blackfish orca Tilikum dies at SeaWorld Orlando

The SeaWorld theme park announced Friday that Tilikum, the orca featured in the Blackfish documentary in 2013, has died.

A fixture of SeaWorld Orlando for 23 years, Tilikum became infamous in 2010 when he grabbed a park trainer after a "Dine with Shamu" show and pulled her into the pool, killing her. He was also involved in two other deaths during the 1990s. In its announcement of Tilikum's death Friday, SeaWorld acknowledged that the whale's life would "always be inextricably connected with the loss" of Dawn Brancheau, the park trainer, but that park officials "continued to offer Tilikum the best care possible" despite the "profound sadness" surrounding Brancheau's death.

In 2013, CNN released the documentary Blackfish, in which Tilikum was heavily featured. The film turned popular opinion against keeping orcas in captivity, prompting heavy backlash against the SeaWorld parks; in March 2016, SeaWorld announced the end of its orca breeding program, meaning the current generation of whales under the park's care at its three U.S. locations will be the last.

Tilikum was estimated to be 36 years old and had sired 14 calves in his 23 years in Orlando. While the cause of death is yet to be determined, he had been battling a persistent lung infection. With his death, there are now 22 orcas remaining under the care of SeaWorld parks.