Tilikum, the orca whale that rose to infamy after killing a trainer at SeaWorld before becoming the basis of a controversial documentary about the marine theme park, has died at 36.
Tilikum, who had been part of SeaWorld’s community for the last 25 years, was the subject of the 2013's Blackfish, which explored the care of orcas in captivity.
The cause of Tilikum's death has not yet been released.
“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,” SeaWorld President & CEO Joel Manby said in a statement. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”
The world learned Tilikum's name in February 2010 when SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was grabbed by her ponytail, dragged into a pool and tossed around by the orca.
An autopsy revealed that Brancheau was drowned and suffered multiple traumatic injuries.
In a statement on their website, SeaWorld said: “Tilikum’s life will always be inextricably connected with the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Dawn Brancheau. 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.”
The orca was born off the coast of Iceland and moved to Sealand of the Pacific after being captured. While at the Canadian aquarium in British Columbia, he and two other female orcas were responsible for the 1992 death of a trainer who slipped and fell into their pool and was submerged by the giants of the water.
Following that incident, Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, where it lived for the rest of its days.
The orca was also linked to the 1999 death of a man who apparently snuck into SeaWorld, and either fell, jumped or was pulled into Tilikum's tank.
According to National Geographic, the average lifespan of an orca in the wild is anywhere between 50 to 80 years. Studies conducted by The Marine Mammal Inventory Report, a database run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration catalogues all the marine mammals held in the country, indicate that females live longer than males in both the wild and captivity.