TMZ is reporting that Tilikum, the killer killer whale, who famously killed a SeaWorld trainer back in 2010 and was the focus of the documentary Blackfish, died early this morning. He was 36. And while the cause of death is still unclear, he had recently been treated for a nagging bacterial infection.
TMZ notes that Tilikum was also involved in 2 other deaths back in the ’90s. Which is fine by me. TAKE OUT ALL THE BASTARDS, TILLIKUM.
Tilikum was 22 feet long and weighed more than 11,000 pounds, according to The Associated Press. He was born off the waters of Iceland, captured and performed in captivity for decades — first at the now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific and then at SeaWorld Orlando. A prolific breeder, he sired more than 20 calves.
But he became notorious for aggressive behavior. In the ’90s, he was implicated in two deaths: a trainer who drowned and a man who was found dead in his tank.
Then, in 2010, he killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, holding her underwater until she died of drowning and blunt force trauma.
In the immediate aftermath of that incident, the question was whether Tilikum would be put down, and whether he would return to performing, as he did in 2011.
But then a 2013 documentary called Blackfish changed the narrative around aggressive behavior by orcas, and by Tilikum in particular.
In the film, former trainers at SeaWorld criticized the park’s practices as harmful for orcas and dangerous for trainers. They argued that animals such as Tilikum behaved aggressively because of the stress and trauma of captivity.
As NPR’s Greg Allen reports, animal welfare groups have long protested against marine parks holding killer whales in captivity at all. When Blackfish came out — and aired on CNN, where it reached millions of viewers — the public joined in the outcry.
Rest in Peace, you magnificent beast.