The SeaWorld whale that inspired the controversial documentary Blackfish died from bacterial pneumonia, it was revealed on Friday.
SeaWorld spokeswoman Aimée Jeansonne Becka announced the cause of death in an email to the Associated Press.
Tilikum was receiving treatment for a persistent bacterial infection when he died in captivity last month. He was about 36 years old.
In March 2016, it was announced that the infamous whale had fallen ill, suffering from a bacterial infection in his lungs that was resistant to treatment.
The whale was the subject of controversy when he killed trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld’s Orlando park in 2010. After a “Dining with Shamu” dinner show, Tilikum grabbed the veteran trainer and dragged her to the bottom of his pool, killing her in front of numerous guests.
This event, plus two other incidents that included the captive whale, inspired and were included in the 2013 documentary Blackfish. The film argues that life at SeaWorld is unnatural and unhealthy for the animals, many of whom live in small enclosures and are trained to perform for humans.
Since the release of the film, SeaWorld has announced that it is planning to phase out orca shows to focus on more natural behaviors and that the parks are putting an end to their orca breeding programs as well.
Regardless, of Tilikum’s checkered life at SeaWorld, the park says the whale has left a positive mark on countless staff members and guests.
“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,” said President & CEO of SeaWorld Joel Manby. “My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”